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The right to roam

The right to roamTomorrow will mark the 82nd anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass. Over eighty years ago working class people defied the police and landowners with a mass trespass in the Peak District in order to assert their right to roam.

The protest led to five demonstrators being arrested and imprisoned. However, it also began the process that would see the creation of Britain’s national parks by the post-war Labour Government, and a later Labour Government would pass the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, implementing what is known as the right to roam, securing walkers’ rights over open country and common land.

However, even with these new rights the vast majority of the land in Britain is owned a small group of landowners. The Kevin Cahill book, Who Owns Britain, published shortly after the right to roam legislation, found that about 6000 landowners own 40 million of Britain’s 60 million acres of land, and that 70% of land is owned by 1% of the population. In comparison, 60 million people live in houses collectively occupying 4.4 million acres.

Much of this land was lost during the 18th and 19th Centuries when thousands of individual enclosure acts transferred land out of common ownership into the ownership of farmers and landowners. This pushed many of the poorest agricultural workers and their families off common land on which they were allowed to keep livestock.

The enclosure acts were nothing more than legalised theft by the rich and powerful in society, and working people have been fighting ever since to gain access to their land.

I have been supporting the England Coast Path campaign which has called for the creation of a continuous walking trail around the entire coast of England with wider access to beaches and open land. The previous Labour Government legislated for the path in the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009, however, progress has been slow.  The England Coast path was originally marked for completion by 2019, but while the Coalition Government have dithered with its development, the Welsh Government completed a path stretching the length of the country’s entire coastline, which in its first year generated £16m for the Welsh economy.

We have a right to access and enjoy our natural heritage, and I was delighted to join the Ramblers and Natural England last week to mark the opening of the North East stretch of the coastal path, which encompasses the award winning East Durham Heritage Coast.

The East Durham coastline has been transformed from its industrial past, and with the help of the County Durham Heritage Partnership, we now enjoy an award winning heritage coast which is one of the finest in England. East Durham is one of the very few areas in England to get its portion of Coastal Path which will help boost tourism and improve access to our treasured coastline.

I am relieved we have been able to complete our coast path, however, I will continue to campaign for our right to roam and for the East Durham coastline to be connected to the rest of the English coastline.

Image Credit: Kinder Scout on Flikr by Dom Crossley (CC BY 2.0)


  1. James Martin says:

    Good article, but it should not left unsaid the huge debt of gratitude owed to the main organiser of the mass trespass, the late Benny Rothman. Benny was from a working class Manchester Jewish family, in his teens he joined the socialist Clarion Cycling Club, and then the Young Communist League. The young workers from Manchester and Derbyshire who met up at Kinder Scout for the trespass sung the Red Flag and at his trial Benny made the point that the only reason workers were kept off the moor was because the rich landowners wanted to shoot on it for 10 days every year and had nothing to do with it at any other time.

    A few years later Benny was sacked for being a union organiser in an engineering factory and was active in taking on Mosley’s Blackshirts.

    In a nice postscript, the grandson of the then owner of Kinder Scout at the time of the trespass a few years ago on a TV documentary fully came out in support of the aims of it and joined a commemoration of it.

  2. Martyn says:

    I remember in the late 60s, a farmer stopped my Brother and me cycling along a farm track near our home. When I told my Father what had happened, he went straight round to see him. the farmer told him “It is a footpath not a cycle path.”

    That evening my Father wrote to the local Council. A while later we got a letter from the Council. It stated that if the track is used by any motor vehicles, then we have a legal right to cycle on it. As the farmer had a small shop, that was accessed from both ends of the footpath, we could cycle along it’s full length.

    My father borrowed a neighbors bike and we all rode to the farm together with the letter. the farmer was not happy but had to accept it.

    He never bothered us again.

  3. John Reid says:

    Ther was also the right to roam act of 1996

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