Walkers have reacted with dismay to the news that the Government may change right-to-roam laws to include new safety measures.
The review of access rules will come as part of moves to open up the coastline in a similar way to upland areas. But grough has learnt that draconian new rules could be brought in that mean major curbs on the freedoms gained under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act.
Above: the future of right-to-roam walking? High visibility in the Yorkshire Dales
Concerns over the difficulty rescue organisations have had in locating walkers on open-access land have led the authorities to recommend a range of new obligations for anyone using CRoW access areas. Among the new rules being considered by Environment Secretary David Miliband are:
- All walkers must wear high visibility jackets or vests when on access land
- At night, either a flashing red bicycle lamp or a chemical glow stick must be displayed on clothing or rucksacks
- Parties on access land must not exceed seven in number or be fewer than four, for reasons of safety
- All walkers using access land will have to carry a portable shelter or small tent.
The recommendations were finalised after consultations with representatives of mountain rescue organisations and land managers.
Denise Flatt, of the North Kesteven Mountain Rescue Team (MRT) was one of those consulted by officials from Natural England, the Government agency for the outdoors. Ms Flatt said: “I think the high-viz jacket idea is sensible. We have great difficulty locating mountaineers in our area and anything that increases our chances of finding a casualty will be a boon for us.
“Also, we should be able to spot walkers more easily if they are in groups. I think the numbers are the best compromise between the idea of the right to roam and the need for safety.”
Oliver Purdey, of the Country Smallbore Sustainability Centre on the edge of Dartmoor, said: “We have found that we don’t always see walkers when we are out on the moors shooting.
“If ramblers are made to wear yellow jackets, that should give us a fighting chance.”
Mountain rescue experts conducted an experiment in the Yorkshire Dales to back up their proposals. The photograph on the left shows how difficult it is to spot walkers on the footpath across the moorland.
Ramblers are invisible to searchers in this shot in the Yorkshire Dales
The second picture shows how much easier it is to see the ramblers after they have donned reflective jackets.
The benefits to rescuers are evident as the walkers stand out much better while wearing yellow jackets (below)
Much of Europe is already covered by regulations which mean, for instance, compulsory insurance cover for mountaineers. Legislators in the American state of Oregon have just passed a bill to make carrying radio locators compulsory. One firm that has already caught on to the idea is the Swiss outdoor clothing company Poisson d’Avril, which produces a range of high-visibility skiwear in shades of fluorescent yellow, orange and pink. The clothing is a big seller in Alpine resorts and the company is looking to expand its product range to include reflective gaiters and soft-shells for walkers in boggy, upland areas.
However, the idea of forcing walkers into safety gear has met with condemnation from outdoor users. Kenith Trodd of the Forest of Dean Rambling Club said: “This idea is utter tosh. I regularly wander the Blue Remembered Hills close to my home and use the right-to-roam areas nearly every week. I’ve never needed rescuing and I don’t believe I ever will.
“This is just the nanny state poking its nose in where it doesn’t belong. If people want to take to the wilds, we should let them. I don’t want to see a load of yellow blobs all over the Blue Hills.”
His views are echoed by John Baddeley of the Walter Poucher Mountaineering Club. He believes the proposed rules would be unworkable. Mr Baddeley said: “Imagine trying to tackle some of the Napes routes on Great Gable, or Sharp Edge on Blencathra, with seven people waiting around.
“Then there’s the issue of visual pollution. No photographs of our great fells will be possible without a plethora of lurid greens and yellows despoiling the wilderness.
“Natural England needs to go back to the drawing board with this idea.”
Not everyone in Europe agrees with the concept of making everyone wear high-visibility clothing. Piste-Off! is a group that describes itself as a ‘guerrilla group for wild skiers’. They have led a campaign of disobeying the Alpine rules and ski exclusively in all-white outfits and loudly ridicule anyone wearing garish ski gear. Their attacks take many by surprise since they are effectively invisible on the slopes. They are promising to bring the campaign to England and Wales.
Interested bodies have until 1 April next year to make representations.