Welsh land shake-up most significant in over a decade

Welsh Government proposals will allow cycling and horse riding on many footpaths. Move welcomed by Cycling UK which says will benefit rural economy.

>>> 80% of mountain bikers ride on footpaths

Cycling UK working with Open MTB was one of the national bodies that helped coordinate the action by British Cycling and Welsh Cycling.

The Welsh Government’s announcement has proposed changes to public access which will substantially change how people can enjoy the countryside and is hailed by Cycling UK as potentially being “the most significant changes to rights of way legislation since Scotland’s Land Reform Act in 2003”.

The proposals are wide ranging. They include measures to ensure dogs are kept on leads around livestock, give farmers more flexibility in managing their land and will grant horse riders and cyclists the ability to use many footpaths.

Currently in Wales, horse riders and cyclists are allowed to use only 20 per cent of the rights of way network. The Welsh Government proposals would significantly increase riding opportunities, but would not grant access to the entire footpath network. This is seen as a pragmatic move by Cycling UK, which recognises not all routes would be suitable for shared use.

Open access land, such as expanses of moorlands like Cadair Idris and the Berwyn mountains in North Wales and Natural Resources Wales’ forests, will also see certain restrictions lifted.

Cycling and horse riding, hang-gliding and para-gliding, along with swimming and canoeing on natural bodies of water will become possible in these areas. Organised games and camping will however still be largely prohibited without prior permission.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK Head of Campaigns said, “These proposals, when implemented, could be the most significant changes to rights of way legislation since Scotland’s Land Reform Act in 2003.

“Through Cycling UK’s joint Trails for Wales campaign with OpenMTB, over 12,000 people have written to the Welsh Government calling for change, and it’s a great day for Wales and lovers of the outdoors that they have listened.”

In the UK, only the Scottish Government has passed laws to improve access radically, with the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This law allows people the right to access and cross land for recreational and educational purposes, unless expressly forbidden to do so. Consequently local tourism has boomed, with cycle tourism estimated to generate between £236 and £358 million for the Scottish economy each year.

The Welsh Government proposed to open its rights of way up to allow more cycling in 2017. This was roundly welcomed by Cycling UK through its Trails for Wales campaign, and other campaigning organisations which all saw the need for a change in access policy.

There was a large amount of public support for these proposals, with 16,468 out of a total of 17,391 responses supporting change to access laws in response to the Government’s consultation “Taking Forward Wales’ Sustainable Management of Natural Resources” in September 2017.

Mr Dollimore said: “Improving public access, particularly in the creation or restoration of connected routes is a public good. Farmers, visitors and local communities in Wales will all benefit – and today’s announcement from the Minister is the next important step to achieving this.”