National Parks review: more off-road access in England?

North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Photo by Joolze Dymond / Cycling UK
An independent review into the state of England’s protected landscapes has recommended that the Government should consider whether to expand access rights in National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs).

The Landscapes Review, led by writer Julian Glover, emphasises the original purpose of National Parks was that they should be open for everyone to enjoy, but are currently not fulfilling that purpose.

The report highlighted the illogical nature of rights of way across England, pointing out that while Cumbria and Shropshire have a large number of bridleways, many other places can largely only be accessed on foot, excluding horse riders and cyclists. For this reason the report finds, “There is a case for looking at whether further access rights should be established”.

Glover said: "The existing law and its application excludes many different user groups entirely, or favours walking on foot. We do not seek to undermine those rights. […] But it feels wrong that many parts of our most beautiful places are off-limits to horse riders, water users, cavers, wild campers and so on. We hope that as part of the government’s commitment to connect more people with nature, it will look seriously at whether the levels of open access we have in our most special places are adequate."

Map of National Parks and AONBs in England

In response, Cycling UK’s off-road advisor Kieran Foster said: "Given the access reforms that are currently on the table in Wales, we hope that these comments from the Glover review lead to a willingness to explore substantive change in England too - we hope that a ‘Trails for England’ campaign is very close."

The Welsh Government committed to opening up more trails to cyclists and horse riders in April 2019, following a 'Trails for Wales' campaign by Cycling UK and OpenMTB, alongside other outdoor organisations. It all started with a similar suggestion that widening responsible access to encourage more people to enjoy Wales' countryside could provide social, health and environmental benefits.

The publication of the Landscapes Review marks 70 years since the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, which aimed to create a legacy of protecting Britain’s most beautiful landscapes after World War II.

Since then, there have been dramatic changes in the way we live, work, farm and travel, and Glover argued that this has eroded the natural environment and the relationship between people and nature.

We hope that as part of the government’s commitment to connect more people with nature, it will look seriously at whether the levels of open access we have in our most special places are adequate.

Landscapes Review

As well as recommendations to strengthen nature recovery and biodiversity, there were proposals  to help more people connect with England’s national landscapes, include giving National Park Authorities more responsibilities to maintain rights of way, better support for National Trails, and improved information and signage to welcome first-time visitors.

Lake District National Park

Cycling UK’s off-road campaigns officer, Sophie Gordon, said:

 “The Landscapes Review paints a beautiful picture of the emotional connection that people feel towards England’s National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Spending time in these amazing landscapes makes us feel refreshed, invigorated and more connected to nature, as well as improving our physical health.

"However, there is a noticeable lack of diversity of visitors to our national landscapes, with many people feeling that these places are ‘not for them’. The Review’s recommendations to increase access for all types of users, improve signage and information and welcome a wider range of visitors could have a great impact on helping more people to discover England’s National Parks and AONBs.”

You can also read a more in-depth look at the Landscapes Review.