92% of the English countryside is off limits.With poetry, picnics and joy, it’s time to take back what was once ours, says Nick Hayes of the Right to Roam campaign
“Private property: no trespassing.” “No sidewalks.” “Fishing: permit holders only.” “Intruders will be prosecuted.” ‘
Want to breathe fresh country air? Feel like a refreshing river dip? Well, choose carefully. Going off the designated path or bathing in the wrong place can result in arrest for trespassing.
“Most of the time you’ll find that the priority road is fenced on both sides. Basically, you’re only allowed to walk straight behind the barbed wire.”
So claims Nick Hayes, author, illustrator, wood stick sculptor, and leading voice in the increasingly vocal movement to reclaim the right to walk.
On September 24, he and members of the eponymous ‘Right to Roam’ campaign (of which Hayes is a co-founder) participate in a large-scale trespass to save Worth Forest, Sussex’s largest forest. To do.
The action follows a recent letter to the Prime Minister in which Right to Roam filed a strong case against the UK’s ‘unfair’ and ‘unsupportable’ land access laws. At the core of that case are the benefits that access to nature brings, both to us as individuals and to the natural environment itself.
An army of countryside-loving, untapped volunteers is on hand to protect our wild spaces – if only the law allows them access
Whether it’s walking, camping, swimming, foraging, birdwatching, or anything else we enjoy outdoors, science shows that connecting with the great outdoors improves our mental and physical health. I’m here.
The open letter states: Nature is also lost, the right to be maintained by roaming proponents.
Contrary to stereotypes (think abandoned trash, broken gates, runaway dogs, etc.), most people who head to the countryside treat it with care and respect.
92% of the English countryside is off limits to the public.Image: Sam Knight
Hayes argues that landowners deliberately cast the rambling masses into the light of “misanthropy.” why is that? Because if the opposite turns out to be true, “the last moral reason they exclude us” (i.e., protecting the countryside from the urban hordes) will fail.
But Hayes’ claim goes further. Not only do most of us not destroy the countryside, but many of us would like to actively help restore and preserve it, he says.
Whether it’s an amateur entomologist counting beetles or a scout group collecting trash, an army of country-loving, underdeveloped volunteers are helping to protect our wild spaces.
act as if you are already free
“We have this workforce out there that is completely addicted to moths and fungi and foraging, but they are now being actively forced to pursue those interests.” says Hayes.
Partly, the solution is legal. Twenty years ago the UK government introduced the Countryside and Right of Way Act. Although a step in the right direction, its open access principle covers only 8% of Britain’s land and only 3% of its rivers.
Hayes would like the law to be broadened in terms of both geographic scope and permissible activities (e.g. caught in a wild camp in England and Wales can be fined £2,500). may be faced).
‘We don’t feel indigenous to England because our connection to the land, the key element of indigenousness, was stolen from us hundreds of years ago,’ says Hayes.Illustrated by Nick Hayes
Hayes argues that just as we need to change the law, so must we change the way we organize the countryside in our own minds. His first advice to trespassers is to “act as if you are already free.” So no need to wait for permission. Instead, treat the land (respectfully) as yours, or more precisely, ours.
Here, Hayes turns to the history books. The process of private property ownership as we understand it today began 500 years ago with the infamous Enclosure Act. This was boosted by the 18th century and his 19th century parliamentarians (land ownership).
Before that, however, land was generally communally owned, and everyday people had the right to use it for grazing livestock, collecting firewood, and cutting grass for fuel.
The Right to Walk campaign encourages picnics as a form of protest.Image: Toa Heftiva
What today’s landowners call “trespassing,” Hayes sees simply as taking back what’s ours by historical rights.
“We don’t have a sense of indigenousness in England because our connection to the land, the key element of indigenousness, was stolen from us hundreds of years ago,” he argues. We have forgotten what we lost.”
His reaction to the problem stems from the same logic. In essence, he says, we need to become modern “commoners.” What he means is a commitment not only to assert our right to access the countryside, but to manage it responsibly.
In his recently published book Intruder’s Fellowship: A Field Guide to Reclaiming What’s Already Ours, Hayes offers ideas for what this act of “reclaiming the commons culture” might look like in practice. It offers.
One idea is to revive the ‘old art’ using materials collected from the countryside. Suggestions here include corndry making, wild clay molding, and herbal medicine (forget the skin cream, burdock not only clears the skin, but it seems to help the liver too).
Another suggestion is to join a group trespass. This is the opportunity the Right to Roam campaign has been organizing throughout the year. For example, he recently held a “trespass gig” with activist musicians Beans on Toast in a “forbidden” location in Berkshire. If you’ve done a trespass, he advises bringing a basket or a book of poetry to debunk “the myth that we’re all vandals.”
From corn doll making to herbal medicine, Hayes’ new book offers practical suggestions on how to “reclaim our commons culture.” Image: Nick Hayes. Credit: Antonio Olmos
Finally, consider choosing a part of the local forests and rivers that are valuable to you and pledge to be responsible with the local people.
In Cambridgeshire, a group of about 100 residents concerned about the deterioration of the River Cam did just that. In the words of their Declaration of Rights, they are committed to “relating to the river in a relationship of respect and stewardship.”
“In a way, it does nothing,” says Hayes. “But in another sense, there are 100 people sticking their heads in to protect the river.”
Underpinning current trespass laws is the desire to prevent landlords or their lands from being harmed. But what is Hayes asking if the same laws harm the general public by denying them the benefits of nature?
Hayes believes this is a legal quagmire best resolved by putting on your boots and jumping right in.
Main image: Nick Hayes. Credit: Antonio Olmos
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