Should there be greater access to the countryside and rivers of Wales?
There is much heated debate at the moment on the issue of opening up even more areas of the countryside and waterways of Wales. I have listened to and been involved in many of the debates on this issue. My view is that there is sufficient free access to the countryside and no further changes are needed. If change has to happen it should be through VAAs (Voluntary Access Agreements) and not legislation. Many land and riparian owners, people who work in the countryside and on waterways and other interested parties have expressed concern that more access will lead to more abuse of our natural resources.
Over the last few months I have been corresponding with Welsh Assembly Members stating my views. A few of the replies I have had back suggest the way to deal with abuse is through better education and seem reluctant to talk about enforcement (presumably because this will cost money). However I don't believe education alone will work. I live on a smallholding that backs onto Open Access moorland. The dramatic and beautiful scenery is enjoyed my many walkers who respect the ecology and wildlife that struggles to survive in this harsh mountainous region. Unfortunately there are a small minority of people who spoil the enjoyment of the many by exercising their perceived rights by tearing up the moorland with mountain bikes, scrambling bikes, quads and 4x4s. They are not content to stick to well worn tracks but feel the need to churn up virgin areas in their quest for thrills, disturbing wildlife, other visitors and residents in the process. Fly tipping is another serious matter that blights the area. These people know they are not supposed to be abusing the moors in this way but continue to do it. No amount of education will help but a few well publicised prosecutions might.
Many livelihoods, including mine, will suffer if there are changes to allow greater access to the waterways as an irresponsible minority can, and will, not only ruin the enjoyment of the many but also damage fish breeding grounds. Local land and Riparian owners can more readily monitor and manage access through VAAs more effectively than politicians. I suggest the Welsh Assembly devote their time sorting out the management of the existing open access land instead of trying to open up yet more.