by Tim Bonner

The extreme environmental group Extinction Rebellion (XR) is inciting its supporters to trespass on private land tomorrow. XR says the protest is about being denied access to the countryside, although it seems to be more about a fundamental opposition to the private ownership of land. XR does not seem to have noticed that there are 140,000 miles of rights of way across private land in England and Wales, as well as hundreds of thousands of acres of open access land for people to use. Instead of celebrating the availability of such wonderful opportunities to responsibly explore the countryside XR is calling on its supporters to: “climb over no trespassing or private property signs; attach your own message to no trespassing signs; explore creative, peaceful & Covid-safe civil disobedience related to the land”. The timing of this protest suggests that XR is also ignorant about wildlife and the workings of the countryside. There could not be a more irresponsible time of year to encourage unlawful access which is likely to disturb ground nesting birds and other wildlife.

Sadly, it is no surprise that the anarchists of XR are involved in such damaging and ill-thought through activities, but some of the other organisations which have attached themselves to this agenda are less predictable.

I have written before how the concept of rewilding and especially the language associated with it has alienated many in the rural community. Sadly, the charity ‘Rewilding Britain’ has gone further in provoking the farming community by not only supporting disorganised trespass, but also employing its main cheerleader and creator of the ‘Right to Roam’ campaign who claims that the English and Welsh countryside is “the preserve of the middle and upper classes”. When measured against Rewilding Britain’s collapsed rewilding project in West Wales, which was backed by super rich international donors and would have destroyed the ‘working class’ farming culture that has been there for generations, this is not only an ignorant statement but also a massively hypocritical one.

Yet, Rewilding Britain is not the worst offender in this mindless support for anti-capitalist campaigners. The CPRE, which used to be known as the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, but now prefers only to be known by its initials, has thrown its weight behind the campaign for wider access to private land. CPRE’s Chief Executive says that he has been convinced that “opening up more of rural England will encourage more people to love and take care of it”. He seems unaware that there are people who currently take care of rural England and love it, and completely blind to the fact, that has sadly been emphasised over the last 12 months, that many people who make use of current access rights have no love or respect for the countryside at all.

The Alliance supported the Countryside and Rights of Way Act which extended access rights, especially to unenclosed open land. We want people to have every opportunity to visit and use the countryside responsibly, but the XR demonstrations and ‘Right to Roam’ are not about the ability of people to walk, run or play in the countryside, they are about a fundamental hatred of land ownership which is the basis of the capitalist society these campaigners abhor. If Rewilding Britain, CPRE or any other organisation wants to adopt a radical political agenda they have every right to do so, but they need to be honest about what they are doing rather than hiding behind false flags and charitable status.

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