Mass campaign for the “right to roam”: gathering at Vixen Tor!

Author Alexander Tatiev
Category Culture, Lifestyle, People, Town
Date February 21 2024
Reading Time 2 min.

Mass campaign for the “right to roam”: gathering at Vixen Tor!

The hills and marshes of Dartmoor, embodying England’s natural beauty, this time served as the battleground for a fundamental right – the legendary Right to Roam. On February 24th, hundreds of supporters of freedom of movement are gathering here to conduct a mass hike, aiming to draw attention to the “absurd” laws hindering free access to England’s natural landmarks.

As activists anticipate, the upcoming action in Dartmoor will serve as both a symbolic and practical demonstration of the participants’ stance. People will gather at Vixen Tor, a notable rock formation located on private land, and from there embark on a hike through nearby private lands, ignoring fences and barriers. Planned performances and creative presentations are intended not only to entertain travellers but also to shed more light on the issue.

This mass action will echo another hike: 90 years ago, a group of scouts led by Benny Rothman, a British communist and anti-fascist, traversed through private territories in Derbyshire despite the landowners’ objections. They aimed to highlight the injustice of the situation where people couldn’t wander freely through open countryside areas fenced off by wealthy landowners who prohibited public access to their estates.

The participants of that hike brought attention to the issue, and their initiative was continued by advocates for the Right to Roam. Present-day activists argue that the existing system in England is outdated and inadequate. Although the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provided limited access to certain types of landscapes, including mountains, moors, and reserves, significant issues persist.

The main issue is the so-called “access islands”: areas of public land surrounded on all sides by private property, effectively rendering them inaccessible, with any entry becoming unlawful. The total area of such “islands,” according to human rights activists, amounts to 2.7 thousand hectares. Such legislative gaps lead to confusion: people, wishing to enjoy the beauty of nature, often unwittingly become lawbreakers. The severity of the problem is evident considering that only 8% of England’s territory is freely accessible.

Lewis Winks, one of the leaders of the Right to Roam campaign, emphasizes the absurdity of the situation: “It’s ridiculous that the public have to trespass to reach these fragments of land where they have a legal right to roam – all because of our piecemeal approach to access in this country.”

Demanding a paradigm shift in England’s policy, campaign participants refer to Scotland’s progressive approach in a similar situation. There, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 establisheda “right to responsible access” to most natural sites, backed by a clear set of responsibilities. This system allowed for the abandonment of the concept of “access islands” and prioritisedinclusivity, encouraging responsible behaviour in rural areas.

Meanwhile, the UK’s Labour Party initially promised to reform the relevant legislation according to the Scottish model, but this proposal met resistance from some groups of landowners. As a result, the noble plans fell through. However, despite the setback, campaign participants remain confident: England can learn from Scotland’s success and adopt a more progressive stance.

As Winks states, when politicians are ready to discuss reforms, they must take into account past mistakes. So, the mass illegal hike in Dartmoor will serve as a vivid reminder of the ongoing struggle for the right to roam across England’s lands.