Labour has reversed its commitment to create a Scottish-style right to roam in the English countryside if elected, according to sources. Instead, the party will explore alternative methods to increase access to land in England after facing resistance from some landowners’ groups. The news has disappointed campaigners who have been pressing for a general right to walk across the English countryside, with recent mass trespasses drawing widespread attention. Currently, only 8% of England has a right to roam.
England and Wales are currently under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (Crow), which grants the right to walk on open country and registered common land. However, Northern Ireland does not have general rights to wander over the countryside. The previous shadow environment team, led by Jim McMahon, had promised a Scottish-style right to roam in England, where it would be assumed that people have the right to walk in the countryside.
The move was met with criticism from rural campaign groups including the National Farmers' Union, who labelled it an "attack on the countryside." As a result, Labour has changed its approach and is now exploring ways to increase access without adopting a widespread right to roam policy. The party is considering reforming the Crow Act instead, which provides legal access to specific types of land.
Labour's shadow environment secretary, Steve Reed, expressed astonishment at the suggestion that increased access to nature would not be included in the party's next manifesto. However, he acknowledged the need to respect the interests of farmers and growers to protect their crops. Reed also announced that Labour would be producing a white paper on access to nature.
The change in direction has drawn criticism from campaigners who argue that piecemeal extension of the Crow Act would not guarantee equitable access for those who need it most. Advocates point to Scotland's well-promoted outdoor access code and default right to access land and water responsibly as a more successful and cost-effective model. Recent polling indicates that 62% of the public support a Scottish-style right to roam for England. Campaigners have vowed to continue working with Labour to promote access to nature.