On the 20th anniversary of the CRoW act, a group of 101 artists, musicians, actors and writers have written a public letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for more access to the English countryside.
Nature writers such as Rob Macfarlane, Melissa Harrison and Zakiya Mckenzie have teamed up with musicians such as Brian Eno, Billy Bragg and Kerry Andrew, artists such as Jeremy Deller and Andy Goldsworthy and actors including Mark Rylance and Jerome Flynn to call for an extension of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW).
The CRoW Act opened up 8% of England to a right of responsible roaming. Twenty years later, it has been incredibly popular and successful, but because it covers only a fraction of the countryside, many people are still unable to access it as often and they need – as the letter says, nature has become a holiday destination for those that can afford it, and is still not a part of many people’s everyday lives. However, it continues, since the Land Reform Act of 2003, the public in Scotland have been able to paddle board, kayak and swim its rivers and lakes, walk through its meadows, climb its mountains and mountain bike and camp in its woodlands. In Scotland, access to nature is seen more as a birthright, and certainly not the crime it is in England. “Why”, the letter asks, “should we in England be denied this right?”
Bonus for mental and physical health
The first of England’s lockdowns demonstrated how vital it is for the public to have access to green outdoor space, both for physical and our mental health. The letter highlights a growing body of scientific evidence showing just how essential nature is for our wellbeing. A simple walk in the woods can boost our immune system for a month afterwards (1).Exercising in a green space can help combat ADHD in children(2), and obesity, stress and depression in adults(3). Physical inactivity costs the NHS around £1bn per year, and wider society around £7.4bn per year (4). The letter states: “to improve the health of our nation, to alleviate the pressure on the NHS, we need greater access to nature.”
A broad range of artists
Nick Hayes, author of The Book of Trespass, and co-founder of the campaign says of the letter: “we are incredibly grateful to the artists that have added their names to this letter. From electronica musicians to watercolour artists, from nature writers to Game of Thrones actors, we have a broad range of artists whose work is inspired by nature, who express a connection with nature that is shared by their millions of fans, but which is still not reflected in our laws. We have a chance now to build a new, fairer society, one that places the health of our nation at its heart; for this, we must be allowed to access our beautiful English countryside.”
Deeper connection reduces anti-social behaviour in the countryside
The Right to Roam campaign is calling for the government to extend the CRoW act over woodlands, rivers and greenbelt, so that the greatest number of people can get the most health benefits. It calls for a much more comprehensive countryside code, for early years education in nature and argues that instead of increasing the litter and vandalism seen over lockdown, it would in fact encourage a deeper connection and care for the environment that would not only lead to greater health of the countryside, but also a greater appreciation of the essential work of farmers and other land workers.
- Li, Qing. ‘Effect of forest bathing trips on human immune function.’ Environmental health and preventive medicine vol. 15,1 (2010): 9-17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2793341/
- Taylor AF, Kuo FE, ‘Children with attention deficits concentrate better after walk in the park’. J Atten Disord. 2009 Mar;12(5):402-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18725656/
- Public Health England, ‘Improving access to greenspace: A new review for 2020’, March 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/904439/Improving_access_to_gr eenspace_2020_review.pdf
- NICE guideline NG90, 22nd March 2018, ‘Key facts and figures’, https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng90/chapter/Context