The struggle for access rights is not over, the Ramblers said. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

The struggle for access rights is not over, the Ramblers said. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Eight hundred years ago a charter was sealed establishing the right to access England’s forests, previously the reserve of kings.

Now, campaigning charity the Ramblers wants outdoor enthusiasts help it shape the future of access, looking to the next eight centuries.

The organisation chose the anniversary of the granting of rights under the Charter of the Forest to kick off a debate on enabling people to make the most of the great outdoors.

Following the Norman invasion and occupation of England in the 11th century, swathes of countryside were declared royal forests and reserved only for hunting by the monarch and his family. The 1217 charter is viewed by many historians as a companion to Magna Carta, though unlike the better known document, the Charter of the Forest extended rights to all ‘freemen’.

Forest included not just wooded areas, but enclosed heath, wetlands and grassland.

The Ramblers said the charter was the first step in a campaign spanning centuries seeking the legal guarantee of freedom for people to access the beautiful landscapes found in England and Wales.

A spokesperson said: “There have been many milestones in the journey to increase access since this seminal moment: the Kinder Mass Trespass, the creation of national parks, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, the Marine and Coastal Access Act, the opening of the Wales Coast Path, all of which have helped to increase the places people can walk.

“But the Ramblers knows there’s still a way to go, with many areas still out of bounds.”

Vanessa Griffiths: 'We've come a long way'

Vanessa Griffiths: 'We've come a long way'

The charity’s chief executive Vanessa Griffiths said: “With the help of outdoor enthusiasts everywhere, the Ramblers has been leading the way in opening up access to the countryside.

“We’ve come such a long way from the times when land would be reserved for the sole use of aristocracy.

“Until the year 2000, although blessed with stunning countryside in England and Wales, much of our land was closed off, even to those living on its doorstep. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act revolutionised this, opening up more than a million hectares for everyone to enjoy.

“Now we have the right to walk over many areas of mountain, moorland, heathland and down and common land, a right that people treasure.”

In Scotland, thanks to the Land Reform Act, people now have even better outdoor access, with the right to be on most land for recreation, education and for going from place to place.

Stuart Maconie, president of the Ramblers added: “I’m proud to be president of an organisation that has been leading the way in increasing access to the countryside during the 82 years since its inception.

“It’s amazing to look back and see just how far we’ve come thanks to the Ramblers’ campaigning efforts and an overwhelming public will for opening up the countryside.

“But our job is not yet done.

“Today, on the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, we’re looking forward – thinking about the opportunities there will be over the next 800 years to allow people to make the most of the great outdoors.

“With the Ramblers’ most recent YouGov research showing that 18-24 year olds are using open access land more than any other age group, there’s clearly an appetite not only to maintain access to the countryside, but to increase it too, so the new generation of walkers can make the most of the freedom to explore.

“This anniversary really brings to life the long history of the struggle for greater access to the countryside, a mission that is very close to my heart.

“But what do people want for the next 800 years? Now is the time to help shape the future of access.”

The charity is now gathering thoughts from everyone on what they would like the future of access to look like for the next 800 years. People are being asked to share their views by visiting the Ramblers website.

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