The fight for the right to roam in the English countryside – podcast

As the days lengthen and spring turns to summer, millions of people in England begin to head for the great outdoors to soak up the tranquility of the countryside. Since Covid lockdowns ended, people have been encouraged to make the most of the physical and mental health benefits of getting active in England’s green spaces.

However, as the environment reporter Helena Horton tells Michael Safi, they might be surprised to learn that they have no legal right of access to most of the country. Only about 8%, in fact.

And despite its messaging around the importance of leading a healthy and active lifestyle, the government does not appear inclined to change the law. A review of the accessibility of England’s countryside was recently shelved, with a minister telling parliament that the countryside is a ‘place of business’.

There are invisible barriers, too. The journalist and author Anita Sethi argues that for many minority ethnic Britons, the countryside can seem unwelcoming and inaccessible. A Natural England study showed that only 1% of visitors to national parks were from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. She describes participating in a recent event in the Peak District to mark the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout trespass in 1932. The Kinder in Colour walk highlighted the issues of racial inequality that still remain, she says.

  • Bennie Rothman interviewed by Alec Greenhalgh, 1989. Held by Archives+ at Manchester Central Library. Digitised by Unlocking Our Sound Heritage, supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Louis and daughter Lizzie at the Right to Roam protest in Totnes, Devon

Photograph: Karen Robinson/The Observer

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