A history of open access land


More than 100 years of campaigning and legislation have led to the freedom to roam on wild land. Here are the key milestones:

1600s - 1860
Parliamentary Enclosure Acts "fence off" half of England's countryside.

1860s - 1900
Many outdoor clubs and societies are formed including the Common, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society (1860), Hayfield and Kinder Scout Ancient Footpaths Association (1876), Manchester YMCA Rambling Club (1895) and Yorkshire Rambling Club (1900). 

Daniel Defoe claims the High Peak is "the most desolate, wild and abandoned country in all England".

Wordsworth describes the Lake District as "a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy".

The Common, Open Spaces and Footpath Preservation Society is formed and rescues Epping Forest, Hampstead Heath and Wimbledon Common.

The world's first national park is established at Yellowstone, USA.

Hayfield and Kinder Scout Ancient Footpaths Association is formed. The "right to roam" movement has begun.

Picnic party

During Queen Victoria's reign, people's interest in rambling was growing. Several clubs that still exist today were formed such as the Manchester YMCA Rambling Club (1880) and the Yorkshire Rambler Club (1900).

The first attempt to introduce an Access to Mountains Bill fails and in 1908 and 1926.

Hope Valley railway opens. Ramblers conflict with landowners as they head for the hills. The Local Government Act is amended to include some provision for rights of way.

The National Trust for Places of Historic Interest and Natural Beauty is established.

The UK Gamekeepers Association is formed.

Forerunner of the Country Land and Business Association is formed.

Another attempt to introduce an Access to Mountains and Moorland Bill fails.

Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves is founded by Hon. Charles Rothschild. It identifies places in need of protection with the aim of transferring them to the National Trust.

The Forestry Commission is created to restore the country's woodlands: 400,000 acres had been felled during World War I. The outdoor movement booms. Every weekend, thousands of working class people escape the grime of the cities in search of clean, country air.

The Law of Property Act gives the public the right of access "for air and exercise" to all commons in urban areas in England and Wales.

Council for the Preservation of Rural England is formed.

Winnats mass trespass

Sheffield Clarion Ramblers' Winnat's mass trepass takes place.

Ramsay MacDonald sets up enquiry to investigate whether national parks would be a good idea.

The Addison Report recommends there should be a National Parks Authority to select the most appropriate areas.

Proposals to make Dovedale the first national park. The depression created mass unemployment and, for many people, the only release was to get out into the countryside for cheap and healthy exercise. The northern moors were strictly preserved for grouse shooting and this led to demands for access and protest meetings in the Winnats Pass at Castleton and elsewhere.

A change of government and a severe financial crisis means Addison's recommendations are put on hold.

Mass trespass

On Sunday 24 April, 400 ramblers gather at Bowden Bridge Quarry, Hayfield to trespass on Kinder Scout. Protesters are met by gamekeepers and scuffles break out. Arrests are made and five men are imprisoned. After the skirmish the demonstrators continued along the path through William Clough and are joined by Sheffield ramblers who had walked via Kinder and Edale Cross. The whole group then walked along the Hayfield to Snake footpath to its highest point where they hold the "victory" meeting. The Rights of Way Act is passed.

A conference, chaired by Norman Birkett, resurrects Addison's Central Authority for National Parks. Tom Stephenson suggests a 'Jubilee Trail' along the backbone of England. The Ramblers' Association is set up, amalgamating many clubs across the country.

Keep off the moors notice

On 26 May, first meeting of the Standing Committee on national parks.

John Dower, the Committee's secretary, publishes 'The Case for National Parks in Great Britain'.

After 55 years, the Access to the Mountains Act finally succeeds.

The Scott Report accepts the need for national parks and looks at problems facing the countryside.

The Dower Report suggests how national parks could work in England and Wales. A new Labour government sets up the Committee on National Parks, chaired by Sir Arthur Hobhouse.

The Hobhouse Report suggests 12 potential national parks. The new Town & Country Planning Act sets up a land-use planning system which includes national parks.

The route of the Pennine Way is decided.

On 16 December, the government passes the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act setting up the Countryside Commission, the Nature Conservancy Council (now both Natural England) and ten national parks.

A Landscape Area Special Development Order brings the design and materials of farm buildings in the Peak District, Lake District and Snowdonia under some planning control.

The establishment of the Peak District National Park on 17 April brings the start of protracted negotiations leading to the first access agreements in the country for the public to walk on private moorland. The Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor National Parks also designated.

Ramblers consult a map

Pembrokeshire Coast and North York Moors National Parks established.

The first agreement covering 5,624 acres of land owned by the Duke of Devonshire on Southern Kinder is signed with some additional areas belonging to the Youth Hostels Association and local Edale farmers in the same year.

The Peak District National Park's Ranger Service is set up and the first ranger, Tom Tomlinson, is appointed to work as a warden in the Peak District in January. The Voluntary Warden Service is launched on Good Friday. Wardens are trained to help people appreciate the countryside. Yorkshire Dales and Exmoor National Parks are designated.

In February, the first access agreement for Kinder is signed.

Northumberland National Park is designated.

Brecon Beacons, the last national park designated by the 1949 Act, is established. By the end of the year a further 15 square miles of south east Bleaklow are under an access agreement.

Fieldhead information centre opens in Edale.

An access agreement is signed for Langsett Moor. Windgather Rocks at Kettleshulme, near Whaley Bridge, are purchased to resolve a climbing problem.

The Stanage Edge access agreement is concluded.

Stanage Edge

Three rover scouts die on Bleaklow Moor, resulting in the formation of the Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation and Edale Mountain Rescue Team, both staffed by wardens.

On 24 April, 30 years on the Pennine Way is opened. The country's first national trail, it stretches 256 miles from Edale to Scotland.

The Countryside Act is passed, imposing a duty on every minister, government department and public body to have "due regard for conserving the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside".

Longendale access agreement signed. 

Stanage/North Lees Estate purchased by the Peak District National Park. Tissington Trail is opened.

The Local Government Act establishes National Park Authorities to administer each national park. Forward planning documents ā€“ National Park Plans ā€“ must be produced.

1973High Peak Trail is opened. 

The Sandford Committee recommends that national parks should have larger budgets and more staff.

The year of the drought and the scene of many devastating moorland fires around the Peak District National Park.

The Peak District National Park rangers celebrate their 25th anniversary.

Roaches Estate purchased by the Peak District National Park in response to overgrazing and climbing problems.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act is passed, the first comprehensive protection of listed species and habitats, and includes conservation schemes like Countryside Stewardship. Severn Trent Water in partnership with the then Peak Park Joint Planning Board pioneered the opening of Ladybower Reservoir and the removal of roadside fences. The Monsal Trail is opened.

The 50th anniversary of the Kinder Mass Trespass. Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorland (SCAM) is set up. In October, the National Trust buys the Kinder estate declaring it open for access in perpetuity.

The largest holding of land to date is brought into the ownership of the national park when the 2,509-hectare Eastern Moors Estate was purchased from Severn Trent Water in order to provide access, and also safeguard ecological and archaeological sites. A House of Lords Select Committee suggests caring for the environment should have comparable status with the production of food.

The last of the National Park Authority's major land purchases takes place: the acquisition of the 4,900-acre Warslow Moors Estate for nature conservation.

European directive requires Environmental Impact Assessments to be made for major projects that affect the environment.

The Broads is designated the eleventh national park.

The Rights of Way Act is established by a Private Member's Bill.

The 40th anniversary of the national park is significant for the increase in access land on the eastern side of the park. Agreements are reached with Chatsworth Estates covering the moors above the parkland and with Sheffield City Council for 2,073 acres of Houndkirk, Burbage and Hathersage moors. The total access area is now 81 square miles (half the total area of open country in the park). In the same year, the Pennine Way maintenance team starts the mammoth task of restoring the Pennine Way. The Edwards Report 'Fit for the Future' reviews national parks.

80 square miles of access land are closed following a number of serious fires. The Earth Summit United Nations Conference is held in Rio de Janeiro calling for sustainable development and local action plans.

Langsett Barn opens as a briefing centre, information centre and community centre providing improved facilities for the north-east corner of the park.

The Environment Agency is established and the Environment Act 1995 is passed. Moorland fires cause closures of access land. Thornhill Trail is opened.

1999High Peak and Tissington Trails dedicated as public bridleways. 

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is passed which introduces the right of access on mountains, moors, heaths and downs. The first meeting of a Local Access Forum takes place in the Peak District.

On 17 April, The Peak District National Park celebrates its 50th anniversary. Rural businesses are blighted with the national outbreak of foot and mouth disease.

The 70th anniversary of the Kinder Mass Trespass is celebrated.2003

National park rangers assist the fire services to fight serious moorland fires, mainly around Kinder and Bleaklow. 

200450th anniversary of the Peak District National Park's Ranger Service.  Open access is introduced in the Peak District.  Access land in the National Park doubles to 550 square km. The Land Reform Act which provides for a right of access to land and water in Scotland is passed.

2005Peak District National Park dedicates its woodlands as open access.

2006The National Environment and Rural Communities Act is passed.

2009The Marine and Coastal Access Act is passed.

2010Millstone Edge dedicated as open access by Sheffield Council.

2011Eastern Moors Estate leased to National Trust and the RSPB.

2012First areas of coastal access established in time for the Olympics. The tunnels on the Monsal Trail are opened.

Roaches Estate leased to Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Peak District National Park dedicates land at Edale as open access prior to disposal. Welsh Coastal Path is completed. Natural England commence the dedication of their National Nature Reserves.

201460th anniversary of the Peak District National Park's Ranger Service. 10th Anniversary of the introduction of open access land in the Peak District.

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