Along with several other organisations, the BMC has written to the Home Office, Ministry of Justice and DEFRA to share our grave concerns about the Government’s proposals to make trespass a criminal, instead of a civil, offence. This could have the potential to change how people access and enjoy the countryside and green spaces.
Originally referred to in the Government's manifesto where it was stated that they ‘will make intentional trespass a criminal offence’, it is our view that this is an extreme, illiberal and unnecessary attack on ancient freedoms. The potential threat of criminalising trespass would put many genuine visitors to the countryside and beyond at risk of offending and deter many from exercising their legal rights. This is especially important against a backdrop of significant efforts to encourage people to be more active in the outdoors and in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The BMC responded to the Home Office consultation in March 2020: ‘Strengthening police powers to tackle unauthorised encampments’ and today unite with several other organisations including The Ramblers, CPRE, Friends of the Earth, British Canoeing and the Open Spaces Society to reinforce our objections to any measures that would deter people from accessing the countryside. The joint letter sent today comes ahead of the publication of the Police Powers and Protections Bill which will affect England and Wales.
Here is a summary of our main concerns:
• The Government's manifesto stated ‘we will make intentional trespass a criminal offence’. It is our view that this an extreme, illiberal and unnecessary attack on ancient freedoms that would have a negative effect on how people can access and enjoy the countryside and green spaces. Such a move would be out of touch with the public mood, particularly as more people are visiting the countryside and green spaces due to Covid-19. A petition ‘Don’t criminalise trespass’ on the UK Government and Parliament website gained 134,928 signatures, showing the level of public opposition.
• An unintended consequence of changes to legislation, if framed insufficiently tightly, may be to give landowners the chance to criminalise harmless and often accidental trespass. This should not apply for instance, to walkers who stray off a public right of way or to those who cross private land to pass an obstruction. It would send a signal that the countryside is not accessible to all, but a place of complex rules and regulations where those partaking in recreational activities such as walking, cycling, climbing or canoeing in the countryside may be at risk of committing a crime.
• Proposals would also threaten ‘wild’ camping, responsible and short-term ‘van camping’ or rest stops on long journeys (which should be encouraged in preventing accidents) by individuals or small groups, and risk criminalising other informal activities.
• The creation, implementation and enforcement of new powers is likely to be a costly exercise for the public purse, with uncertain outcomes of monitoring and enforcement. Government priority should instead be to make our countryside and green spaces easy and accessible for all. Promoting outdoor recreation and access to the outdoors is essential in tackling physical inactivity and the mental health crisis as well as helping to raise awareness of the value of our natural environment.
The BMC will continue to work in partnership with other organisations to ensure our access rights are not eroded. You can also help by writing to your MP.
We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.
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