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We are campaigning to bring a Right to Roam Act to England so that millions more people can have easy access to open space, and the physical, mental and spiritual health benefits that it brings. To get updates and to get involved, please sign up below.

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Ours is a wild and a beautiful island. But the vast majority of it is unknown to us because we are banned from setting foot on it. We are excluded from hundreds of thousands of acres of open space simply because exclusionary laws fail to recognise the importance of nature to the public.


But the law of England should not be excluding us from nature. It should be encouraging us towards it. Lockdown demonstrated the vital importance of such access for everyone’s physical and mental health. With depression, anxiety, and obesity all on the rise, science is telling us that we need a deeper connection to nature. Meanwhile, nature is telling us it needs us too. With our ecosystems at crisis point, we need everyone to become nature's advocate. But without that fundamental connection to our environment, we cannot know what we're losing, nor what's at risk. Without us, nature has no voice. 

Yet in England we only have a right of access to 8% of the land, and uncontested rights to 3% of our rivers. These rights have only been extended to walkers and climbers. And they only apply to landscapes which are often remote (applying only to "mountain, moor, heath and down") and inaccessible to those who cannot afford a car,, rather than helping connect most people to where they actually live – and are best placed to help protect. Over 150 constituencies in England have no real right to roam at all. Most others have only tiny percentages. 


Everywhere else the public are made to feel unwelcome in their own landscape, running gauntlets of barbed wire and angry signs, portrayed for centuries as a threat to the countryside, rather than a part of it.


But our desire to access nature should not be subject to such arbitrary whims and unjustified aggression. In recent years, science has built an irrefutable bank of evidence proving what our hearts have always known: we urgently need access to nature, its beauty, its space, its flora and its fauna, for our health, our creativity and our peace of mind. In a world of steel, glass and concrete, of stress, ecological detachment and screen-based lifestyles, the countryside is a natural health service that can heal us.


Nature should be accessible for all. Following the successful models demonstrated in Scotland, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe, our right to access nature responsibly should be the assumption not the exception.  ‘Access’ should also extend beyond simply a right to walk in some places. Provided we treat the land with respect, why shouldn’t we also be allowed to camp, cycle, kayak, swim and climb amid the beauty of the natural world?

What is the Right to Roam?


The "Right to Roam" is a colloquial way of describing an ancient custom that gives anyone the freedom to wander in open countryside, whether the land is privately or publicly owned. In countries such as Norway, Sweden, Estonia and Scotland it has long existed as a common right, a defining concept of nationhood, and has only recently been codified into law. Central to all versions of it across Europe is that: 1) there are sensible, listed exceptions and modifications to this right; and 2) this right only comes with responsibilities to both the ecology and community of an area.


The Right to Roam is really just a definition of private property that is different to England. There are still major landowners in Norway, Counts in Sweden, Lords in Scotland who own many hundreds of thousands of acres. Their ownership of the land, however - while it might allow them to take rent, mine and make money from the land - does not include the right to exclude every other member of the public. In these countries, the Right to Roam is considered so important to the health and mental well-being of a nation, that it supercedes the right to exclude. Instead, every person has a right to explore these vast open spaces. They too are given the right to belong.


This right, however, is contingent on adhering to a strict set of responsibilities. These are simple, basic codes of how to behave in the countryside in such a way that you neither interrupt the function of a working, agricultural landscape, or damage the ecology of where you roam. None of these codes differ in logic from the Countryside Code of England, but they cover a larger scope, because they encompass more activities, and larger areas of land. When children grow up in these countries, experiencing nature and learning the code in practical terms, these codes become second nature, part of a wider understanding of how humans should interact with the natural world.


The combination of rights and responsibilities creates a relationship with the natural world that is entirely different from that of England. Nature is no longer presented like a museum piece, to be observed from afar behind a line of barbed wire. Instead it becomes something to be immersed in, a multi-sensory tangible experience whose smells, sounds, sightings can have profound effects upon the minds of their beholders. There is a long term effect too. Nature is no longer relegated to occasional visits, but instead becomes part of people’s daily routine, woven into our lives. The Right to Roam ensures that the government actively encourages people to go outside and supports ways for everyone to facilitate it. The Right to Roam curates a common, national consensus of an inherent connection with nature.

what is right to roam


The majority of the English countryside is out of bounds for most of its population. 92% of the countryside has no right to roam and 97% of rivers have no uncontested rights of navigation: meaning some bankside owners feel entitled to shout at people just for going for a paddle, or a swim.


In all but one tenth of the English landscape, to wander off the footpath, to swim in a river, to explore and educate ourselves about our countryside, can leave us branded a trespasser and expelled from the land. This is neither fair nor reasonable, and in a time where the need to reconnect with nature is more urgent than ever, it is not sustainable. The law must be changed.


Our Environment

Nature is in crisis. Our wildlife has being decimated, the countryside has been emptied of the birds and bees and wildflowers that it once brimmed with. Our rivers are being clogged with plastic and poisoned with pesticide and sewage. Since the seventies, the linnet population has declined by 53%, but how many people even know what a linnet is, or could recognise one in the trees?


We have forgotten what we have lost: how can we be expected to care about the environment when for so long we have been disconnected from it? As scientist Robert Michael Pyle wrote: “People who care conserve; people who don’t know don’t care. What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never known the wren?” We need a personal connection with nature, forged from early years and maintained as part of our daily lives, in order to care; we need to reconnect with our land.

And where we do have access, we also see care: powerful campaigning from groups such as Friends of Wye (one of the 3% of rivers with statutory rights of navigation and widespread bankside access) powerfully demonstrate how long-standing rights of access can be converted into deeper cultures of connection and care.


On a wider scale, our climate is in crisis. We need to radically cut our carbon emissions; we need to stop flying so much. But with 92% of our landscape off limits, campsites are full in the holidays and the honeypot sites of National Parks and nature reserves are teeming with people at the weekends. Yet there is so much more space in England, hidden behind the stone walls of near-empty manorial estates, or the barbed wire fences of private woodlands. We need the silence, solitude and open space of the landscape as much as we need its fresh air. We need to reconnect with our land.


Our Health


Our need to experience nature is not just about recreation: more than ever it is essential to our psychological wellbeing. With our sedentary and largely urbanised lifestyles, obesity and respiratory disorders are on the rise, and heart disease and back problems plague many. We have an urgent need for exercise and for the space to do it in.


On top of this, our mental health is in crisis - as a nation we are getting steadily more depressed, and ‘nature deficit disorder’ has been cited as the cause for many developmental issues in children, such as ADHD and eating disorders. From the phytonicides released by trees in a forest, which can boost our immune systems and decrease the symptoms of stress, to the recent studies showing the correlation between kindness and sensations of the sublime, science is finally beginning to prove what we have known all along: in mind, body and soul, nature can heal us.

Our Society


The recent coronavirus lockdown has brought the issue of access to open space to the foreground of public consciousness. Those with gardens were privileged over those without, those with access to green space (whether living in the country, or near a public park in the city) were able to access nature and open air, whilst those without were literally confined within the walls of their homes. During lockdown, crowded parks and honeypot sites received a lot of attention. Yet they also demonstrated the obvious: we are being crammed into a tiny percentage of available green space; which we experience as visitors rather than protectors, with no deeper culture to defend against disregard.


Just as coronavirus split England along the same old fault-lines of class and race, so access to land is deeply biased against large sections of our society. Two hundred years ago, the working class were still intrinsically connected to the countryside. Even as late as the 1930s, rambling and cycling were seen primarily as working class hobbies, accompanied by a strong understanding that nature was needed as a salve to counteract the hard, cramped lifestyles of urban dwelling. Only very recently has the countryside become the preserve of mostly privileged classes. From National Trust memberships, to outdoor recreation shops, the leisure industry dominates our access to the countryside. Now even the experience of nature has become something you can purchase, a commodity for those that can afford it.


Similarly, for Black and People of Colour (BPOC) communities, who are disproportionately affected by lack of access to nature, there are many more barriers to nature than simply the walls of private estates. The English landscape is filled with manorial estates built from the profits of enslaving and trading African people, of West Indian Sugar plantations and East Indian colonialism. The legacy of these brutal systems survives in the landscape, as strong as it is unacknowledged, contributing to a deep sense that many BPOC people feel that they remain unwelcome in the countryside. 

Our Land

At the end of the Second World War, the Attlee government looked into granting a full Right to Roam in England, similar to that of Scotland today. Alongside the welfare state, state pensions and the National Health Service, full access to the countryside was proposed as a corollary to the NHS, to offer the English a way to prevent illness before the need for the cure. Of all the proposals for this post-war new order, the Right to Roam was deemed a step too far by the landowners in the House of Lords, and rejected in favour of the National Parks plan.


In today’s post-lockdown society, now, more than ever, the time is right to renew that initial vision and open up more of the English countryside to the public. We need to alleviate the pressure on the National Health Service by opening up the Natural Health Service, by giving people access to the natural healing properties of the countryside, the health benefits that come with the visceral experience of nature, with access to open space.


our environment
our health
our society
our land


We need greater access rights to the land and waterways of England. The CRoW act needs to spread its wings over the land an include activities other than walking. What about kayaking, paddleboarding, wild swimming, wild camping? Across the border in Scotland we have seen the default of exclusion replaced with a default of access, and a definition of recreation which allows for all kinds of different ways to be in the land, whether you're a walker or not. Why can England not enjoy these rights too?


With new rights should, yes, come, new responsibilities. We should create an English Outdoor Access Code, akin to that in Scotland, which makes clear, through democratic discussion, rather than landowner edict, how we should be in nature. How to enjoy it, protect it and yes, mitigate our impact on it too. Equally: the responsibilities of landowners should be made clear: accommodating the right of people to enjoy the countryside that is our collective inheritance, not merely the preserve of the few. 


Here are just four examples of areas we're excluded from:



There is an ongoing debate concerning access rights to England’s rivers. Many countries across the world allow full or partial access to their rivers and lakes. Finland, France, Sweden, Norway, Bulgaria, Hungary and Belgium allow a general right of navigation on all rivers, with specific, seasonal arrangements made to accommodate other users such as fishermen. Australia and America, whose legal system was built on English Common law, allow free access to all rivers that can be navigated. There is a

strong legal argument that public access to all rivers was enshrined by the Magna Carta. But this is heavily contested by the angling community, for whom a lucrative industry depends on the exclusive use of rivers, and so in England only 3% of rivers are open to a legal right of access.


The Environment Agency has stated conclusively that kayaking causes no harm to the environment of the river, and has even been shown to benefit the ecosystem. But still kayakers are thrown off waterways by fishing bailiffs whose agencies have rented exclusive access to the waters. Similarly, whilst swimmers in Scotland can access all inland waters (as long as they follow the outdoor access code) in England swimmers are limited to small stretches along common land, or the rare spaces where rights of way lead into the water. River banks and their courses are dominated by a single leisure group, the anglers, while other pursuits and people are banned. We must be given full right of access to all rivers and work in close harmony with the angling clubs so that the rivers can be a shared resource, not just for fishing, but for us all.


The more people that have access to blue space in England, the better they will be safe-guarded against pollution. As British Canoeing’s ‘Clear Waters, Clear Access’ campaign asks, why shouldn’t visitors to our rivers be persuaded to care for them as they use them? For example, kayakers on the Derwent have been operating a scheme where they take an empty bag with them on trips, returning with rubbish they have collected along the way. With more people out on the rivers, there will be more eyes to pick up on spillages or pollution, more people to clear the rivers of litter and obstructions, so improving the ecology of our most vital resources.



In England, the half-million acres of woodland that are owned by the Forestry Commission are already open to public access. However, more often that not, this woodland is a monoculture crop of pine, and a world apart from the brimming life of deciduous woodland. The public are banned from the majority of the woods in England largely so as not to disturb the pheasants that are imported in crates from France, and reared in the woods to be shot in their millions.

But woodlands are perhaps the healthiest environment for the public. The Japanese practice of Shinrin-yoku, forest bathing, has for thousands of years been used to improve mental and physical health, and now science has shown that immersion in woodlands can reduce stress and boost the immune system for days afterwards. Most of these woodlands have benefited from public subsidies in the past, so if we are paying for their upkeep, why are we banned from experiencing their health benefits?



Green Belts take up only 13% of England, and yet are perhaps the most important area of open space to the public, because so many of us live within easy access of them. If Green Belts were opened up to responsible public access, the 30 million people living near them would have more easy access to open air, and the mental and physical health benefits that come with this.


Much of this land is agricultural, pasture and cultivated land, but that doesn’t mean we can’t access its open space. Why can’t we follow

Scotland’s example, where under the Land Reform Act, people are allowed to walk the verges of fields, avoiding crops and machinery and livestock, taking care to leave the land as they found it? The verges of fields, supplemented with support for new access infrastructure, would give people access to the open air whilst keeping the farmland safe. If it works in Scotland, why not just over the border in England?



Downland describes a landscape of open chalk hills - in its natural state, home to many species of wildflowers and insects, from orchids to the Adonis blue butterfly. Downland is already covered by the CRoW Act, but there's a problem. Because so much of our downland was ploughed up during and after World War Two, what we have left includes lots of small fragments. That has led to a very odd access situation. There are many open access 'islands' 

of downland in the South Downs and in Dorset, where we have the Right to Roam on the remaining fragments, but we have to trespass over non-access land to get to them. This is clearly ridiculous. To help fix the situation, we're calling for an extension of the definition of downland to include semi-improved grassland, which could help connect these 'islands' to points of access.


green belt
the countryside code



If you would like to receive more information about what we are doing, please sign up here.

If you would like to become an ambassador for Right to Roam, and can volunteer more of your time to help, please get in touch with us here, and tell us a bit about yourself.


Right to Roam was founded in 2020 by Nick Hayes and Guy Shrubsole and has since grown into a small and feisty organisation of campaigners, writers, artists and ecologists and nature connectors.

We have local groups all around the country and are part of a growing alliance of ramblers, wild swimmers, paddle-boarders, kayakers, authors, artists and activists who want to see our exclusionary laws of access changed.




One thing about rambling is that it abhors a fence. For this reason, we will present a campaign than actively eschews partisan divisions. A full Right to Roam will benefit everyone, regardless of political affiliation. Just as importantly, we will actively pursue a non-exclusionary campaign, and seek to engage with as many people as possible, from all backgrounds. Equal access to land is interwoven with racial equality, class equality, and gender equality. When the land is opened up to all, it is for everyone. We recognise that the walls of private estates are not the only barriers to feeling comfortable in the countryside, and our campaign will seek to reach out to members of society who are not currently engaged.


We’re campaigning for default right of responsible access, like that enjoyed in Scotland and Scandinavia, where any exclusions are justified rather than arbitrary and most types of activity can be enjoyed in the countryside - not just the interests of climbers and walkers.


This campaign is about sharing. We want to share the countryside with each other, and with its owners. And it is sharing that will spread the message. Please follow us on Twitter and Instagram, please share our videos and posters amongst your friends, and please sign up to this website to receive more information on how you can help share the message that nature should be open for public access.


who are we?
equality of access

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Scotland has had a comprehensive right of responsible access for over twenty years. In other words, the results are in; and the consensus is that it has worked well. But we fully acknowledge that for some landowners and managers, it might still seem a frightening prospect. Below we address some of the genuine concerns raised about extending access to the countryside, as well as rebutting some of the myths told about Right to Roam.




  • Would you want someone wandering around in your back garden?
    For centuries the Right to Roam has been deliberately conflated with home invasion. The absurdity here is a question of scale: the law of Tort, which governs trespass, makes no distinction between climbing the fence of someone's back garden, and taking a woodland stroll in a duke’s 13,000-acre estate. People have a right to privacy and personal security in their homes and gardens. But when the private wall of an estate extends around thousands of acres, the question becomes more prevalent: how much land does one person need exclusively? Each country that has a Right to Roam also has a codified understanding of what constitutes an area of privacy. In Sweden, it is forbidden to walk or camp within 70 metres of a dwelling or garden, in Norway it is 150 metres, in Scotland its is defined as a ‘reasonable distance’. An Englishman's home is his castle, a bastion of security and privacy, but when an Englishman's home is actually a castle, how much land does he really need for his exclusive use?
  • There’s already enough Open Access land, why do we need any more?"
    As it stands, only 8% of the English countryside is open for people to freely roam across. Some of this land is in large areas, such as the National Parks, and others are tiny plots dotted around the country, available to see on Ordnance Survey maps. As it stands, access to the wild, to wide open spaces, has become a postcode lottery, a perk for those that happen to live in the area. Of the wide variety of landscape types in England - its woodland, fenland, grassland, rivers, lakes - only a few are represented by this 8%. On top of this, for anyone wishing to get out into nature for longer than a day, the current rulesprevent overnight camping unless in designated, paid-for spots, even on most open access land. (There are a few exceptions, such as on parts of Dartmoor, but they are the exception rather than the rule - and even those have been recently challenged in court by a major landowner). When you factor in the elements of travel costs and overnight accommodation, access to nature has become contingent on your economic income. We need the right to camp on land as well as walk on it, because as anyone that has gone wild camping knows, waking up in nature is a world apart from waking up in a campsite. We need to feel at home in nature, to go to sleep under the cries of hunting owls, to wake up to the dawn chorus.
  • You can get into the countryside by using footpaths and rights of way, why do you need more than that?"
    There are 140,000 miles of public rights of way in England and Wales, but an estimated 49,000 more miles of ancient footpaths that have been lost from current maps. As a result of the CRoW act, after 2026 no further applications to reopen ancient paths will be accepted - this cut off date will guarantee these footpaths will be secure but also enshrine the rest of the land as private and inaccessible, covering over the lost rights of way. In some areas, the footpath network provides reasonable coverage. In others, it is extremely poor. And without wider rights of access in place, there is no incentive for landowners to upkeep the paths that exist, or to introduce fresh ones. Similarly, large parts of the countryside have long been enjoyed by customary, informal or permissive use. Yet these are continually under threat. Every week we receive messages from communities who have lost access to another treasured place, simply because there are no rights in place to ensure such access continues to exist. Footpaths are, and have always been, desire lines. They represented the most logical, pleasant and practical way to get from one side of the country to another and were mostly designed to facilitate the journeys of agricultural labourers, rather than the needs of modern users. They were not envisioned as official codified rights, but simply created by the footfall of everyone that used them. Yes, even in a countryside that embraces a greater Right to Roam, many people will opt to use the existing paths, and we support the use of public funds to create new access infrastructure. But there must be a wider right of access to serve as a secure and non-arbitrary foundation on which the Right of Way network sits.
  • People don’t know how to treat the countryside with respect, there'll be loads more litter."
    We hate litter, and like many in the countryside, pick it up whenever we see it. But the litterers and the vandals are the outliers. By far the majority of people who come to the countryside treat it with respect. For those that don’t, how will people they ever learn the code of the countryside, how to behave in nature, if they cannot regularly experience it in practice? If people continue to be cut off from the beauty of nature, how will they ever care about how it is treated? Nature must be experienced from an early age and enjoyed to be respected. We propose that an extension of the Right to Roam should come with a much greater emphasis on promoting the Countryside Code: Why has the Government spent less than £1m promoting the Code in the past 16 years? It needs a proper promotional budget. Why shouldn’t children be taught the Countryside Code at school? Instead of signs that warn against trespassing, why not have more signs that explain the Code? In Scotland, research has found that people respond much better to being informed than they do to being told. Let's create a culture where people are much more aware of their responsibility to the land, to nature, and the communities that live and work in the countryside. And remember: those who disregard the rules that already exist don't care what the rules are anyway. The only people we're putting off with our current access laws are those who, by their very nature, are seeking to do the right thing.
  • What about dogs defecating everywhere, scaring wildlife and worrying livestock?"
    Dogs are a genuine concern, and can do real damage, especially during bird-nesting and lambing season. We're campaigning for a suite of measures to address dog issues to go alongside access reform, from a proper system of certification (requiring completion of a short online course for all new owners) to planning reform to make dog exercise areas near urban fringes easier for farmers and landowners to introduce. Our view is that access is a right; while owning a dog is a choice. Access rights granted to humans would not necessarily extend to access rights for their dogs. We support restrictions on off-lead dogs in sensitive areas, especially at significant times of the year (when ground nesting birds are roosting, and lambs being born) and total exclusions for especially sensitive conservation sites. But we should make sure we also address the problem at source: research has shown that far from banning people with no trespassing signs, people respond much better to being informed rather than being compelled.
  • Of course Right to Roam works in Scotland, there’s lots of mountains and open air, but there’s not enough space in England…"
    This is one of the oldest stories told about the English countryside. Only 9% of England is built upon, and the rest comprises open countryside, farmland and 'natural spaces' (forests, lakes, grasslands etc). In short, England is full of space, but it’s hidden by brick walls and barbed wire. England only feels full because, most of the time, we're all sharing the same tiny proportion of it. At any rate, the key metric here is distribution not density. On this, Scotland is little different to England. 70% of Scots live in the Central Belt, and its right of responsible access applies just as much to the outskirts of Glasgow as the highlands of Glen Nevis. Equally, the Scottish lowlands look much the same as the agricultural areas of England over the border. Yet still the right to roam applies. This does not mean Scotland is perfect. We can improve on its access infrastructure to make sure rights of access mean practical access. And perhaps we should go further on legitimate exclusions to. The point is, this should be for everyone in society to discuss and decide; not simply for individual landowners to impose.
  • Isn’t this just about abolishing private property? Isn’t this just the ‘politics of envy’?
    Not at all. In countries that have enshrined the Right to Roam, the land is still owned by individuals. Private property is still intact. The only right they cede is the right to exclude others. This is not about envy. It is about equality. When access to the health giving resources of nature is so vital, how can it be fair that so much is given to private individuals? Private property has always been a bundle of rights to be negotiated in tandem with society's needs. Access is no different.
  • What about extending the Right to Roam in Wales?
    We have teamed up with BMC Cymru to begin the campaign for access reform in Wales. Find out more here!


Before we can share the countryside, we must share the message.

Please download our PDF documents which go into more detail about various aspects of this campaign. Please share them with people you know who might be interested, and on your social media.

And please watch our collection of films, which tell the story of the campaign. Please also  share these with people you know, and on your social media.

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