Over a hundred authors, musicians and actors have written to the Prime Minister urging him to extend the right to roam in England.
From actors such as Mark Rylance and Stephen Fry to the author and playwright Ali Smith, signatories to a “A letter from the artists of the land” call on Boris Johnson to extend the Countryside and Rights of Way (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.”
The CRoW Act, which turns 20 years old this week, introduced the right to roam in England for the first time, and “has been both highly successful and incredibly popular,” the letter says, “yet it covers only a fraction of our countryside.”
Highlighting disparities within the nations of the UK, the authors write; “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.”
Speaking on Twitter, Guy Shrubsole, the author of ‘Who Owns England’ and one of the organisers of the campaign, said: “We need greater access to nature for the sake of public health.”
The letter continued: “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.”
The Right to Roam campaign also highlights the inequality that exists along class and race lines with regards to access to nature in England; on its website, the campaign states that while rambling was once seen as intrinsically connected to the working class, access to nature has increasingly “become something you can purchase, a commodity for those that can afford it.”
The letter also cites research that suggests that “Black people in England are nearly four times as likely as White people to have no outdoor space at home.” The list of signatories includes Mya-Rose Craig, also known as Birdgirl, who is president of Black2Nature, an organisation which seeks to increase nature access to inner city children from underrepresented backgrounds.
Speaking to the Oxford Blue, Mya-Rose Craig said: “the right to roam is so important to me because, from someone who grew up in the countryside, accessing the countryside should be a right not a privilege and the restriction of access is inequitable, impacting marginalised communities the most.”
The campaign, organised by Shrubsole and fellow author, Nick Hayes, focuses on four areas where right to roam should be extended: rivers, woodland, green belt, and downland. The letter adds, “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.”
The letter comes on Lost Species Day, (30th November), in which public figures including Margaret Atwood, Emma Thompson and Lily Cole will speak at an online event in remembrance of species facing the threat of extinction.
Image credit: Max Spokes
This article was updated at 18:05 on 1/12/20 with a quote from Mya-Rose Craig