BMC responds to Wales outdoor access consultation

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.

DOWNLOAD THE BMC'S DRAFT RESPONSE

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.

DOWNLOAD THE BMC'S DRAFT RESPONSE

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 hello@thebmc.co.uk

BMC calls members to support New Access for Wales

Truly radical and exciting proposals for extending and improving access to the outdoors in Wales have been put forward by the Welsh Government in its consultation paper: “Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources”. Read on to see how climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers can support this.

The Welsh Government (WG) has produced a consultation paper on “Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources”. The consultation is extensive and wide ranging, affecting a range of issues and matters as diverse as farming, hunting with snares, felling licences for trees and litter laws. However, the exciting interest for climbers, hill walkers and mountaineers, is contained in Chapters 3 and 4 – Designated Landscapes and Access to the Outdoors.  

There is much in the document that is welcomed by the BMC, but there are reservations regarding a number of details, how the proposals will be implemented, and other matters that could be added. This is especially true for the proposals surrounding the future management of Wales’ National Parks, which will be covered in a separate article and have to an extent already been discussed here – the support and response already given by BMC members made a considerable difference.

Overall the BMC is really pleased to see publication of this consultation and wholeheartedly supports the ethos and ambition outlined by the Cabinet Secretary in her introduction to the consultation. To a great extent many of the access proposals reflect the BMC’s own proposals that were raised with the WG in the Open Access Wales campaign and we are particularly pleased to see the proposal to extend open access to the coasts and cliffs of Wales being included.

How to: send your response

Just click and sign to show your support. We wanted to make it incredibly simple for our members to respond, so all you have to do is click the button below and write your name at the bottom of the email. 

Members can directly email the Welsh Government with our response linked in an email template using the button below. All you have to do is write your own name at the bottom of the template. Members can down download and read the BMC's response before sending it, or read below for the summary of the document.

The initial BMC response is based on discussions at the BMC Cymru area meetings, a workshop held attended by a range of BMC access volunteers, members of the BMC Access Management Group, Mountain Training Cymru and BMC Cymru/Wales, the BMC Executive Committee, and discussion with key access volunteers in Wales. The basis of the response is set out by the BMC’s agreed core access principles, appended below. We would now like the views and support of other BMC members before the final submission on 30 September. We also want to encourage members to write in directly to Lesley Griffiths AM, the Cabinet Secretary for Welsh Government for Environment and Rural Affairs in support of the BMC position and to express their own views as well.

In summary: the access proposals

There are 17 separate proposals for improving access to the Countryside of Wales – some are simply technical amendments to exiting legislation while other proposals suggest very radical changes to the current access arrangements. The full draft of the BMC response can be seen here. The main proposals and the BMC’s responses are below (numbers refer to the full Welsh Government consultation document).

Proposal 10: To allow cycling and horse-riding on public footpaths.

This is one of the most controversial proposals and the most difficult for BMC members to agree on. Many BMC members are also mountain bikers and many public footpaths are very suitable for use by cyclists, but this is currently illegal (trespass against the landowner). Cycling is currently allowed on designated cycle ways and public bridleways and this proposal would extend that right to all public footpaths. The BMC’s response is to support this proposal but subject to the very strong reservations that there should be paths identified that are not suitable and are inappropriate for cyclists to use (for reasons of erosion, conservation, safety of other users, land management, congestion or other issues) and cycling should not be allowed on these paths. The activity should also be controlled by a statutory and enforceable access code (as suggested by proposals 16 and 26).

This response is in accordance with the BMC’s previously published and agreed access principle of “least restrictive options” where activities should be allowed but subject to local and necessary restrictions on a case by case approach. This is the approach taken for rock-climbing and we would be seen to be hypocritical not to support a similar approach for other non-motorised recreational activities.

Proposal 11: To remove some restrictions on activities under CRoW Act.

This proposal aims to allow recreational activities on open access land that are currently illegal, such as genuine wild camping, swimming in rivers and lakes, paragliding, etc. Again the BMC supports this proposal subject to the implementation of a statutory code. Very controversially (but good news for kayakers!), this proposal also aims to give legal access to inland waters (rivers and lakes) for kayaking and canoeing.

Proposal 13: To extend CRoW access land to the coast and cliffs.

This has been a key BMC ask for many years. Most sea-cliffs in Wales are excluded from open access land, despite the land above them possibly having open access. This means that technically we are trespassing and have no secure access to climb on some of the most iconic sea cliffs in the world. Extending CRoW access land to include the coast and cliffs would secure access as of right to some of our most important climbing venues.

Proposals 16, 26: To develop a statutory code of access for Wales.

The BMC fully supports the introduction of a code of statutory access, similar to the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, for Wales. The character and culture of the countryside of Wales is different from Scotland and a Wales specific code is required. The relaxation of the current restrictions will depend on compliance with a good of good practice and behaviour if conflict is to be avoided. We believe that this will be critical to the success of implementing these proposals to extend and improve access to the Welsh countryside and are calling for Welsh Government to ensure this aspect of the proposal is well publicised and resourced.

Proposal 27: To review and clarify roles of local access forums.

The BMC feels that local access forums (LAF’s) in Wales, while having had some limited value, have not been as effective at improving opportunities for access as they could have been. In many instances these have, at best, been talking shops, and at worst, have been totally ignored by some local authorities. For the recommendations in this consultation to be successful, we feel that the LAF’s need to have more powers, that local authorities and national park authorities should have a legal obligation to listen to and take note of their decisions, and that the make-up of the LAF’s should be more representative and have representatives of key user groups with full voting powers, not simply interested individuals as is the case at present.

We urge all BMC members but especially those in Wales to email or write to Lesley Griffiths AM Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs to express their view.  We know that many landowners and farming unions will be opposing these proposals, but the BMC truly believes that these proposals are good for both the citizens of Wales and for visitors alike, and with a well-publicised and far ranging access code will improve both access and understanding of the Welsh coast and countryside. To make life easier we have prepared an email template – feel free to use this or amend it as needed for your response.