Welsh_Govt_logoCountryside Alliance Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner writes:  In mid-May the Welsh Government announced that its plans to develop access to the Welsh countryside and outdoor recreation are open to further discussion. Considering plans for legislation had been due to come forward last December, this is a great coup for Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru (SACC), the coalition or rural organisations set up as a result of the work of our Director for Wales, Rachel Evans. The group has its origins in making the case for anglers and riparian owners in the access for all and “right to paddle” debate involving canoeists. The fact that we are keeping the discussion open before any legislative decisions are made is a testament to the coherent and compelling case being put forward. 

Our members and supporters have been actively involved in the access consultation, launched by Minister for Culture and Sport John Griffiths AM last summer. The SACC has already gained huge support and built an impressive case – it held a reception at the Welsh Assembly in January and was able to talk to AMs, along with rugby legend Gareth Edwards, about challenging access proposals in order to avoid a “free for all” in rural Wales. More than 50 organisations and 2,000 individuals have signed up to support SACC and we are proud that this united voice is keeping the debate alive at the heart of decision making in Cardiff.

We welcome the Minister’s assurance that no primary legislation will be introduced in this term and look forward to continuing to work with the Government, as well as land owners and riparian owners, to increase access to our wonderful Welsh countryside in a responsible and managed way.

Plans to improve the rights of way network and increase the number of voluntary access agreements are of course welcome, and our own work on angling and education are testament to our view that our countryside is for everyone. However, it is vitally important that all access to the countryside is sensitive to both environment and rural livelihoods.

A bump in the road has been a survey into the value of outdoor recreation to the Welsh economy conducted by the Wales Activity Tourism Organisation, which failed to include the millions of pounds contributed by shooting, fishing and equestrian activities. Omitting those activities from the survey meant only a part of the full picture emerged from the survey. We will to make the case that fieldsports and related activities form the backbone of rural Wales and contribute hugely to Wales’ £5bn tourism industry.

The important work of the SACC goes on as we await the next phase of the debate – Natural Resources Wales’ outdoor recreation strategy which should be published any day. We’ll keep you posted.