Memorandum submitted by the Open Spaces
1. The Open Spaces Society (formally the
Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society) was founded
in 1865 and is Britain's oldest national conservation society.
We campaign to protect common land, village greens, open spaces
and public paths, and people's right to enjoy them. We advise
local authorities and the public, and we manage and preserve open
spaces which we acquire by gift or purchase.
Public rights of way
2. While we naturally sympathise with everyone
who has been affected by the foot and mouth crisis, we consider
that the most important element in reducing the impact on the
tourist industry is to reopen as many public rights of way as
possible as soon as possible. Public paths are the most important
means for people gaining access to the countryside and the impression
to most people is that if the paths are closed then the countryside
3. Walkers, riders and cyclists generate
considerable income for rural businesses. If they can return to
the countryside then the tourist industry will pick up.
4. Local authorities reacted very swiftly
when the Government called for paths to be closed on 27 February.
Many authorities closed every path immediately. While one cannot
blame them for being cautious, we are concerned that some of them
closed urban paths where there was no risk whatever of users spreading
foot and mouth.
5. On 21 March the Government veterinary
advisers said that there was no evidence that users of rights
of way were responsible for spreading foot and mouth, and they
advised local authorities that they could open most paths in rural
areas, particularly outside the infected areas. However most authorities
have ignored this advice.
6. This week the Government will be publishing
its framework for reopening paths. It is vital that local authorities
follow this advice and reopen their paths as soon as possible
to the benefit of the tourist industry.
7. We therefore make the following recommendations:
(a) local authorities should open paths and
access land where it is safe to do so as soon as possible;
(b) the Government should reassure local
authorities by publicising the scientific advice through statements
made by the Government vets on television and radio and by ensuring
that all local authorities are aware that they will not be liable
should an outbreak occur in an area after the paths have been
(c) representatives from user groups should
be appointed to the rural task forces at all levelsnational,
regional and local. Local authorities should be required to set
up local task forces whose terms of reference would include the
reopening of paths in line with government guidelines as a principal
(d) local authorities should be encouraged
to seek help from user groups in the reopening of rights of way
and access lands by making use of the organisations' members who
have considerable local expertise in these matters;
(e) grants should be available to national
organisations to enable them to give the best support to their
volunteers, such grants to have the minimum bureaucracy attached
(f) the Minister for Paths should be a permanent
appointment because of the importance of rights of way to the
population and the economy and for sustainable transport; and
(g) there should be a mixture of incentives
and sanctions for local authorities who fail to reopen their paths
in accordance with government guidelines.
8. The Open Spaces Society is particularly
concerned about the protection and management of common land,
a special historic feature of England and Wales which is bound
to be of considerable interest to tourists. We are extremely concerned
that, should the traditional breeds of animals which graze the
commons, particularly sheep, be lost due to foot and mouth, the
"hefting" instinct will be lost with them. That is the
instinct whereby the stock do not stray beyond a particular area
and the offspring also have that knowledge. It is called hefting
in some parts of the country, "leering" in others, with
other local names.
9. If the hefting instinct is lost on commons
such as the Lake District fells and Dartmoor and the traditional
landscapes are to be maintained, which requires grazing, the land
will either have to be fenced or farmers will have to employ shepherds.
10. While we have no objection to the latter,
which would have the added benefit of providing local employment,
we suspect that the easy option will be the former. Fencing will
destroy the physical and psychological freedom that this land
offers and will clearly be of great disbenefit to the tourism
industry. If the land is no longer grazed then it will change
in character completely and become scrub which will mean that
people will not be able to walk or ride easily over it, and again
this could be of great disbenefit to the tourist industry.
11. We recommend that, in order to avoid
the loss of the hefting instinct, those breeds which have the
instinct, the Swaledale, Herdwick, Dartmoor and others, be vaccinated
rather than culled.