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Only 10% of some national parks in England and Wales are open to the public | Access to green space

The majority of many national parks in England and Wales are closed to walkers, according to an analysis by campaigners, as they call for larger areas to be open to the public.

Research by the Campaign for National Parks shows that only 10% of the Pembrokeshire coastline is open to the public. Only 36% of the land is accessible in the Peak District, which was the first designated national park, and was granted status in 1951 after protests over the right to roam freely in the countryside, including the intrusion of Kinder.

The campaign also revealed that only half of Dartmoor, the New Forest and the Lake District are open to the public. The Yorkshire Dales are slightly more open, with 60% accessible.

Much of the land in the parks is used by private individuals, for example used for agriculture. However, the same is true in Scotland, where there is a right to roam throughout the countryside, regardless of ownership, which means that all parks are accessible to the public.

A hiker rests on Catbells in the Lake District looking over the Newlands Valley.
A hiker rests on Catbells in the Lake District overlooking the Newlands Valley. Photograph: Jon Sparks/Alamy

Green MP Caroline Lucas recently tabled a Roaming Rights Bill in parliament, calling for access to rivers, woodlands and greenbelt land. The bill will be debated early next year.

She called for more national parks to be open to the public. Lucas told the Guardian: “There is overwhelming evidence that time spent in nature contributes enormously to our physical health and mental well-being, but access to nature remains highly unequal in different parts of the country, and people from ethnic minorities or low incomes are even less likely to live near accessible green spaces.

“The Prime Minister said on the steps of Downing Street that he remains committed to leveling up – well, extending the right to roam across rivers, woods, grasslands and the green belt is a tangible example of the way to deliver.”

Puttles Bridge in the New Forest
Puttles Bridge in the New Forest. Only half of the national park is open to the public, campaigners say. Photography: Geoffrey Swaine/Rex/Shutterstock

Currently the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 grants a legal right of public access to around 8% of England, including mountains, moorland, moorland, some sunken land and commons, alongside the more recently created England Coastal Path. Ninety-seven percent of the rivers are closed to the public and tens of thousands of hectares of woodland have benefited from public subsidies but remain inaccessible to the public. This includes areas in national parks.

Dr Rose O’Neill, Executive Director of the Campaign for National Parks, said: “The Covid pandemic has illustrated how important national parks are to people’s health, well-being and quality of life. . Millions of people benefit from it, but there remains a real inequality of access.

“When the National Parks were created by the National Parks and Countryside Act 1949, they were hailed as a popular charter for the outdoors. It’s time to renew that promise and actualize powers and investments so that people from all walks of life, no matter where they come from, can explore these incredible places.

“The extension of roaming rights is essential. The government also has a major opportunity with the Leveling Bill currently going through parliament to give national parks a new purpose and powers for the 21st century, so they can do more to boost recovery of nature, fight against inequalities and the effects of climate change and open these landscapes to all.


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