We have been banned from our land for too long.
Tomorrow is the 89th anniversary of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in 1932, when three coordinated groups of ramblers converged on the Peak District’s highest point to protest the exclusion of the common people from the common land.
Although walkers’ right to roam on common land and uncultivated upland was not legally protected until the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, the mass trespass on Kinder Scout became a potent legend that showed avaricious landowners that they wouldn’t have it all their own way.
Today, in 2021, we need trespass more than ever.
Criminalising the countryside
As I have written about in previous newsletters (here and here), the government is currently trying to force through legislation that will make trespass a criminal instead of a civil offence.
Outside of the landowners and their cronies in government, it is hard to find anyone in favour of this new law. Not even the police are in favour of powers that would have made TS Eliot liable for a prison sentence.
My MP assures me that this will not affect white middle class ramblers (he didn’t use those exact words, but he didn’t have to) and is only designed to exclude and incarcerate poor people who choose to live their lives closer to nature: Travellers.
The key word there is ‘designed’. Laws have a nasty habit of getting used for the convenience of those in power. Designed to imprison Travellers, used to imprison protestors. Why not?
What’s so depressing about this law is that the ruling minority even feel like they need the open threat of violence to keep us in our place. The vast majority of the land—our land—is already off limits.
Law breakers are law makers
92 percent of the countryside—our countryside—is already shut away behind PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs and, when I see one of those signs, personally, I keep out. Whoever put that sign up is clearly a bit of a dick so why would I want to risk bumping into them?
But access to the countryside is an inalienable right for all. Not only for the few who can afford to buy country estates or who have inherited titles thanks to ancestors who slaughtered peasants.
White middle class ramblers should stand up to support the Travellers who are rightly fighting to defend their livelihoods, but we should also take this moment to open up on all fronts.
As we’ve all found over the last year, that last scrap of land, that 8 percent, is not enough for us. We are not only a few, we are tens of millions. We want more and, to get what we want, we are going to trespass and trespass and trespass until the law collapses under its own weight. Law breakers are law makers.
It’s not even that we ask for much. We only ask that the Countryside and Rights of Way act be extended to include the right to roam on private land. This is already the law in Scotland. Scotland!
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (which came into force in 2005) gives everyone rights of access over land and inland water throughout Scotland, subject to specific exclusions set out in the Act and as long as they behave responsibly.
Our land, our law
To mark tomorrow’s anniversary of the Kinder Trespass, Extinction Rebellion is calling on every citizen to trespass ‘wherever and however they can’. I hope you will join them. Whether you join the trespass or not, Right To Roam and Extinction Rebellion have created some very useful materials that I think are important for us all to read.
- Trespasser’s Guide
Many land workers report abuse from ramblers, people who are expressing frustration at the iniquity of the landownership system towards the people who also labour under it.
- Everybody Welcome sign to paste over PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs
As long as you respect that this is Mother Nature’s home: feel free to wander; you have the Right to Roam.
- Letter to Landowners
For our environment to survive, for our society to thrive, our countryside cannot simply be the preserve of those fortunate enough to own it. We want to be a part of the countryside; we urgently need to reconnect to nature. And until we can have a conversation about how best to make this happen, respectfully, we will keep coming back.
Will I be taking part tomorrow?
In a beautiful coincidence, I’ll be spending tomorrow out in the countryside, helping a group of young people take some of their first steps in the great outdoors.
As this is a professional engagement, I certainly won’t be encouraging my students to trespass, but I will ask them to help me count the number of PRIVATE KEEP OUT signs we see that seem to bar us from land ripe for roaming.
Our young people, no less than ourselves, need the natural world for the sake of their physical and mental health, but also—I learned this week—we need access to nature for the sake of our continuing existence on planet earth.
Individuals with greater nature relatedness are more likely to adopt a sustainable lifestyle and have greater well-being. … This result implies that by nurturing nature relatedness, societies will achieve the double dividend of well-being and sustainability.
These were the findings of a Spanish study published earlier this month. Spending time in nature is the keystone of a healthy society and, in England and Wales at least, there is not enough nature to go around.
For the sake of our future and the future of our children, we need you to trespass and win back our inalienable right to nature.
Trespass with us
I think it’s fitting to end with the final words of this video posted by Nick Hayes, one of the minds behind Right To Roam:
We want a deeper relationship with nature and each other.
We don’t want to break the law. We want to change it.