A CALL encouraging ramblers to embark on a ‘summer of trespass’ has been described as ‘irresponsible and selfish’ by farm leaders and countryside watchdogs.

Countryside campaign group Right to Roam is urging members to unlock blocked or privately-owned areas of the countryside in a bid to raise awareness of how much of England's land is out of bounds.

They say the right to roam exists over just eight per cent of the country.

They are telling members to make the most of the current sunny spell to ‘get outside, and get trespassing’.

Their call to action on their website also includes a seven-point guide outlining how best to locate the site of the trespass, and looking at areas that have been ‘blocked’.

It also suggests things for people to do while trespassing and to take photographs of themselves that can then be shared across social media channels.

The organisation is calling for an extension of the Countryside & Rights of Way (CRoW) Act to give greater access to privately-owned sections of the countryside as well as woodlands, downland, Green Belt land and rivers for activities such as picnicking, wild swimming and wild camping.

'There is nothing to be gained'

But Cumbrian sheep and beef farmer and vice-chair of Red Tractor, Alistair Mackintosh hit back by saying: “The countryside is a working environment. You do not put people that work in that environment at any higher risk than they are already.

"The whole of Cumbria has footpaths everywhere. This is an irresponsible act and a selfish one, and there is nothing to be gained from it.”

News and Star: Alistair Mackintosh, farmer and Red Tractor vice chairAlistair Mackintosh, farmer and Red Tractor vice chair

He added: “If people wander off footpaths if anything were to happen it would be more difficult to identify where they were. There is also the worry of wildfires starting with grass tinder dry.”

And Veronica Waller from The Farmer Network, based in Penrith, said in relation to Cumbria this campaign could cause a number of problems, including increasing the incidence of livestock worrying, gates being left open, litter and wildfires.

“The campaigners are calling for a renewed emphasis on educating the public about the Countryside Code, but farmers are already suffering from these issues on existing footpaths and open access land and this has worsened since the Covid pandemic,” she added.

“Trespassing can be a risk to walkers, for example, farmers may calve suckler cows in fields that don’t have public access to reduce the risk of contact with the public and farmyards are working environments operating heavy machinery.

"This campaign could potentially be stressful for farmers concerned about rural crime who may see people on areas of the farm not currently open for access.

"There is also the risk of people accidentally disturbing sensitive wildlife such as ground nesting birds particularly when walking with dogs,” said Ms Waller.

News and Star: Veronica Waller of The Farmer NetworkVeronica Waller of The Farmer Network

According to the County Council’s website at Cumbria Countryside Access, Cumbria has 7,645 km of public right of way and 2,137 square kilometres of open access land.

Because it has 30 per cent of the common land in England, it may well be one of the most 'accessible' counties already and much of the land is designated as National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

The campaigners point out that in Scotland the legislation allows for access to most land and inland water.

Population matters?

However, there are just under 5.5 million people living in Scotland compared to an English population of just under 56 million. There is far more potential for problems with unmanaged access in England given the pressure of population.

Country Land & Business Association (CLA) President, Mark Tufnell, said: “Campaigners are reminded that significant expansion of this already vast network of access land would also likely damage the natural habitats upon which our already declining biodiversity and wildlife depend.”

He added: “England and Wales possess some of the finest public access systems in Europe. We have over 140,000 miles of public footpaths and rights of way for members of the public to enjoy.

"We encourage people who wish to enjoy the Great British outdoors to observe the core principles of the Countryside Code: Respect, Protect, and Enjoy.”

A National Trust Cumbria spokesperson says: “Access to green space was the founding principle of the National Trust and remains at the heart of what we do today.

"We care for over 50,000 hectares of land in the Lake District, ranging from forests and coastline to mountains and farmland, which is enjoyed by millions of people each year.

“Over the years, we've invested in footpaths, bridleways, cycle routes and recreation areas to improve access to nature and the outdoors.

"We would encourage people to use these routes and follow the countryside code to help protect wildlife, archaeology, historic landscape features, and the farmers who manage the landscape, along with local communities.

“We believe it's critical that the landscape and the access to it can continued to be enjoyed by future generations in a way that respects everyone's interests.”

A Lake District National Park Authority spokesperson said: “There are 3,200km of Rights of Way and around 50 per cent of the National Park has open access rights.

"Our role is to maintain and improve the rights of way network for as many users as possible, and ensure that access to open access land is available.”

'The countryside code is unread and untaught'

Right to Roam member Nick Hayes, author of ‘The Book of Trespass said that ‘all’ Right to Roam trespasses follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, as it is more ‘detailed and impactful than the ‘meagre English Countryside Code’.

He said: “While giving people a clear remit to their responsibilities, it educates them not just to the working business of the countryside, but the seasonal fluctuations and specific topographical sensitivities of the ecology.

"In doing so, its strips the paint of our code, which is largely unread and untaught by anyone in England.”

The Right to Roam campaign is planning a series of mass trespasses throughout the summer until September.