A letter from the artists of the land
Dear Prime Minister,
For the health of our nation, let’s give people more access to nature: let’s extend the Right to Roam.
We write to you as authors, musicians, actors and artists, united in our belief that we all need greater access to the English countryside. In the books we write, the songs we sing, the art that we make, we celebrate the essential connection that we feel with nature. Our love for nature resonates with our millions of fans and followers, but in England, it is actively discouraged by the law. This is not only unfair; it is also untenable.
Twenty years ago this week the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act became law. It introduced for the first time a Right to Roam in England, giving people access to some of our most beautiful landscapes. It has been both highly successful and incredibly popular, yet it covers only a fraction of our countryside. We have freedom to roam over just 8% of England, and only 3% of rivers in England and Wales are legally accessible to kayakers, paddle-boarders and wild swimmers. But just over the border in Scotland, the law encourages the public to swim, walk, camp, kayak, forage and climb, to connect with nature in a responsible manner that is better both for them and for the environment. Why should we, in England, be denied this right?
Lockdown demonstrated how vital it is for us to have access to green outdoor space, both for our physical and our mental health. There is now a body of scientific evidence showing just how essential nature is for our wellbeing. A simple walk in the woods can boost our immune system for a month afterwards. Exercising in a green space can help combat ADHD in children, and obesity, stress and depression in adults. Physical inactivity costs the NHS around £1bn per year, and wider society around £7.4bn per year. So let’s follow the science: to improve the health of our nation, to alleviate the pressure on the NHS, we need greater access to nature.
That’s why we are supporting the campaign to extend the Right to Roam (www.righttoroam.org.uk). We support their proposals to extend the CRoW Act to cover woodlands, rivers and Green Belt land, because these landscapes would give millions more people ready access to nature on their doorsteps. Access to nature is unequal: one in eight British households has no garden, and Black people in England are nearly four times as likely as White people to have no outdoor space at home. To be truly beneficial to our health, nature must not be treated only as an occasional holiday destination, but be a part of everybody’s everyday lives. Doing so could also boost the economy through increased tourism, and could lead to benefits for the environment: studies show that the more people experience nature, the more likely they are to protect it.
With new rights come renewed responsibilities, both to nature and to the people who work in our countryside. Freedom to roam does not mean the freedom to trample or litter. We need to strengthen and promote the Countryside Code, to teach respect for the essential work of farmers and encourage a culture of care and love for the countryside through early years education. Our children must learn about nature in the best way possible: by actually being in it. Only with a visceral, lived experience of nature can we grow to really care for it.
Extending the CRoW Act would be a bold and far-reaching act by this Government, and its effects would resonate for generations to come. Now, more than ever, the time is right to increase our Right to Roam.
We have now received a response to our letter from Lord Gardiner, Minister with responsibility for Right to Roam at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. You can read the Minister's letter by clicking here.