In July, the Welsh Government launched a far-reaching consultation on improving opportunities to access the outdoors for responsible recreation. The BMC has produced a comprehensive response to the consultation, which ends on 2 October. You can have your say too.
The consultation, which could have a significant impact on how we access and use the outdoors in Wales, asks far more questions than it answers. In fact, the whole consultation is effectively a series of 14 key questions, asking outdoor users, landowners and conservation organisations whether the way people access the countryside for recreation can be improved, and if there are ways that the current mechanism of open access and rights of ways can be simplified.
For the BMC, as a body that represents hill walkers, climbers and mountaineers, it was important to address those questions that directly affect access for the activities the organisation supports. While the issues of access to inland water for kayaking, to open country for mountain biking, or even to underground caves are all raised in the consultation (and many BMC members may well take part in those activities too), the BMC felt it could only respond directly about activities that the BMC was established to represent.
What does the BMC ask for?
One of the key questions in the consultation is about "the benefits and challenges of creating a right of responsible access to all land in Wales".Essentially this could be similar to the rights granted by the Scottish Outdoor Access Code in Scotland. While the BMC in principle supports this approach, it was also felt that the geography and topography of Wales combined with greater urban and population density with more built-up areas than Scotland, could make this aspiration very difficult to apply in practice.
Our response also addresses:
Extension of open country: The BMC would very much like to see the definition of "open country" extended to include the coastal margin (especially to include all sea-cliffs), to woodland, and to all valley sides and rough grazing areas where there are many rock climbing venues to which access is currently only tolerated by landowners and is not secured "as of right".
Legalisation of wild camping: The BMC also makes the case for true wild camping to be allowed on access land; currently it’s technically not allowed without the landowner’s permission, even on access land.
Reduction of public liability: We would also like to see an easing of the burden of public liability that can arise for landowners when recreational activities take place on their land. This latter issue (the fear of legal liability towards visitors) is a major factor why many landowners are unwilling to allow access to their land, especially to disused quarry workings that can provide superb climbing venues.
Maintenance and creation of rights of way: On the issue of relaxing the so called burden on maintaining and keeping open all rights of ways, the BMC believes that the current historic network of public right of ways should be protected but that at the same the bureaucratic and time consuming process of diverting, extinguishing and in particular creating new rights of ways should be made simpler and more transparent.
Promotion of rights and responsibilities: A major element of both the BMC response and those of other groups focuses on a question that is not directly asked in the consultation – that of informing and educating users, occupiers and landowners of their rights and responsibilities in the outdoors. The BMC believes that the cornerstone of the success of the Scottish Land Reform Act , in allowing public access to all land for recreation, is the publicity and support given to promote the statutory Access Code that goes with the right of access.
How to have your say
The full consultation can be seen on the Welsh Government website, where you can also download a consultation response form. Responses must be submitted by the closing date of Friday 2 October 2015.
The draft BMC response has been produced with support from a wide range of members and volunteers. If BMC members feel that the response should be changed or that there are key issues that the BMC has not addressed, then please send your comments by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.