NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

England's Green And Semi-Private Lands

November 15, 2000

In a move that would likely dumbfound U.S. property owners, some four million acres of privately-owned land in England and Wales will be opened up for public access under a "right to roam" bill that will almost certainly pass Parliament by December.

Landowners have traditionally allowed hikers to use paths across their lands, with the understanding that the ramblers will stick to the trails.

  • But not content with that, Britain's Labor government has introduced a Countryside and Rights of Way Bill that would allow anyone to roam unhindered through "mountain, moorland, heath, down and common land" that is not under cultivation or fenced in.
  • Great swaths of this land lie in the country's national parks, which -- unlike in the U.S. -- are composed of privately-owned land.
  • Landowners fear uncontrolled access will lead walkers and their dogs to disrupt sheep during lambing season, pollute private wells, scare nesting birds and endanger already threatened native bird species.
  • Farmers and landowners would be held responsible for damages if anyone got hurt while rambling on their land.

Last month, an outbreak of swine fever decimated pig farms in East Anglia and thousands of pigs had to be destroyed. The Ministry of Agriculture traced the infection to a sandwich discarded by a hiker on a footpath.

Source: Ellen Hale, "English Landowners Bristle Over 'Right to Roam,'" USA Today, November 15, 2000.


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