Mass trespasses and the right to roam
from 'The Land is Ours' newsletter Winter 1998
South Downs TLIO has made a major success of its series of mass trespass walks on the downs around Brighton. Up to 200 people turned out for each walk, generating national publicity, with interviews and debates on national and regional TV and radio.
Till only 60 years ago, walkers on the Downs enjoyed a customary freedom to wander at will. But the lack of legal status for this freedom left no obstacle to the postwar productivist drive which semi-natural habitats in the interests of agricultural profits.
Access to the countryside is central to the whole question of land-ownership and democracy in the countryside, and is linked to a whole series of landuse issues, including the destruction of wildlife, pollution, rural employment, taxation, and the nature of land ownership itself.
The protection of nature goes hand-in-hand with a general right of access: people cannot defend what is hidden from them.
More and more people are beginning to recognise these links, and the Brighton mass trespasses have mobilised new constituencies in the land-rights cause. Trades Council members, the unemployed movement, Labour Party and Marxist groups have all participated.
And the latest trespass - on council-owned downland where hunting has been allowed, and access denied, for 71 years - was excitingly dominated by animal rights and hunt sab activists.
Other walkers have stated that the organised mass trespasses have given them a real opportunity to explore the SouthDowns, which they would not otherwise have had the confidence to do.
The Guardian has reported that 81% of respondents to the governments consultation on countryside access were in favour of a right to roam, and it looks like this is a fight which we can and will win.
The right to roam may provide a sound base from which to raise our demand for a socially-owned, democratic countryside, in which both urban and rural people can collectively make land-use decisions
Three further mass trespass walks - on the theme of Aristocratic Parks' - will be held over the winter, on Sunday 17 January 1999, Sunday 14 February, and Sunday 21 March All walks start from Brighton Station at l0am, and are around 6 miles long. Wrap up warm and bring food and drink. Details from Dave, 01273 620815.
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