The majority of the English countryside is out of bounds for most of its population. 92% of the countryside and 97% of rivers are off limits to the public.
Private Keep Out signs are a personal hatred of mine. In England, we forget that private ownership of the land is an abomination in most of the rest of the world.
Private ownership without allowance for public access is the deoxygenated water in the poisoned pond that we swim in: so ubiquitous that we don’t even know what we’re doing to ourselves.
But there are other ponds. And we can clean our own water. Even in Scotland, public access to private land is a right enshrined in law.
Nick Hayes is an illustrator and writer who has recently published The Book of Trespass, which charts the human stories, history and politics of land enclosure. At its heart is a passionate campaign to extend the Right to Roam in England, currently under threat from the Conservative Party who want to make trespass a criminal offence punishable with imprisonment.
If that happens, then I don’t know how many of our outdoor adventures would end in gaol time, but probably about 92 percent. 97 percent if you like to swim, paddle or kayak.
If, like me, you have found sanctuary in our countryside during the pandemic, then please join the campaign.
During lockdown, perhaps the issue of crowded parks and footpaths was not so much people flouting the rules, but very simply the lack of space available to people taking their daily exercise. Covid-19 has demonstrated that access to space is very visibly, very viscerally, linked to social wellbeing.