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.