Law of Trespass could change

Posted by Catherine Flitcroft on 18/01/2021
Photo: Peak and Northern Footpaths Society

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.

READ: 'Forgive Us Our Trespasses' - Ed Douglas calls for the government to think again

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.

READ: Don't criminalise trespass - our joint letter to the Home Office

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.

READ MORE: Is it time to extend our right to roam? Guy Shrubsole explores


We want to say a big thanks to every BMC member who continues to support us through the Coronavirus crisis.

From weekly Facebook Lives and GB Climbing home training videos, to our access team working to re-open the crags and fight for your mountain access, we couldn’t do it without you.

Did you know that we've just launched a new U27 membership offer for just £1 / month? And with full membership from £1.66 / month, it's never been easier to join and support our work: 

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Anonymous User
19/01/2021
To tackle unauthorised encampments it would be sufficient to enact the same legislation they introduced in Ireland to control the problem 20 or so years ago when they made it a criminal offence to trespass with a vehicle
Anonymous User
25/01/2021
Farmers today are being inundated with thousands of idiots who think that they can roam wherever they like, regardless of whether there is a footpath present or not. Various other "activists" are similarly roaming all over, disrupting stock and generally committing illegal acts. This update to the trespass laws is a reaction to these abuses, since the aggravated trespass law doesn't seem to be one the police these days care to uphold.
03/02/2021
The BMC is supposed to be British.
But it's actually behaving as if it's only English.
Everyone needs to be aware that the law of Scotland is different to the Law of England.
https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/act-and-access-code/scottish-outdoor-access-code-visitors-and-land-managers/what-scottish-outdoor-access-code
Anonymous User
04/02/2021
As said above, making it a criminal offence to trespass with a vehicle would do the job. Would be perfect in fact.

What the BMC _hasn't_ done (big mistake) is recognise why this is an issue - unpleasant travellers - and made a suggestion.

Just saying 'NO' won't help. Anyone who has been anywhere near travellers at any point in their life will be desperate for this legislation, I know I am! Suggest an alternative or nobody will listen to you.
Anonymous User
05/02/2021
Is this potential change in the law to prevent access by anyone under any conditions and to deter the odd backpacker having an over night camp. Who potentially would do no damage.
Or
Protect from illegal entry for the sole purpose of criminal activity in terms of stealing materials or livestock.
If it is the latter the law needs be very specific and I have every sympathy with the Land Owner.
If the law is trying to prevent access under any circumstances this needs to be opposed. Especially when One considers that a minor criminal offence on ones record could have a massive effect on a persons employment prospects.
Furthermore the police find it hard enough to enforce the raft of laws we currently have without making their task even more difficult. Unless of course, we all want to pay more taxes to fund a bigger police force.

Anonymous User
17/02/2021
It strikes me that this is an attempt (smokescreen) by the Conservatives to enforce their right and the right of their close friends to Hunt with Dogs illegally, as they have continued to do even though it is against the Law!!!
The outcome would be that any person who trespassed on private land including the Police would commit a criminal offence and thus Hunting could continue unchecked by Activists and would no longer need a repeal of the law, something the Conservatives promised to do, and not yet done!
This intention of course would be hidden amongst the smoke of walkers being criminalised by many unscrupulous Farmer/land owners who think nothing of putting dangerous cattle on a public footpath to dissuade walkers or forcing them onto private land to avoid being trampled and thus the Walker commits the criminal offence! and meanwhile the farmer is never prosecuted for endangering life.
Anonymous User
13/03/2021
The flip side of this is that the changed law would allow farmers to actually stop and deter people from straying off footpaths. At the moment it is nearly impossible to make people stick to rights of way. People already have extensive rights of access over private land, and criminalising deliberate trespass would hopefully ensure people actually check that they are allowed to go where they are go. In my experience people often don’t check, and claim ignorance when asked to return to the footpath
Anonymous User
15/03/2021
I disagree with 'our view'. Trespass, whether a Civil Law infringement or a Criminal Law infringement is still an infringement of The Law. 'Genuine visitors' to the countryside should not be trespassing at all and to do so places the rest of us in a bad light. Therefore, I fail to see how this will ' change how people access and enjoy' the countryside. The proposal is to make INTENTIONAL TRESPASS a criminal offence. If it is a genuine mistake or done for genuine reasons, e.g. a safety issue, there should be nothing to fear. Frankly, I am surprised that The BMC are, in effect, condoning trespass of any kind.
Anonymous User
17/03/2021
I note that some comments were posted as far back as the start of February, but are still awaiting moderation. Why is it taking so long for comments to be cleared by a moderator? What is the point of inviting comments but doing nothing with them? Come on BMC. Let's see what members are saying.
Anonymous User
26/03/2021
Unfortunately the general public do not have a clue about the countryside and wildlife. They tramp and cycle across it with no regard to, and completely oblivious of, the damage caused by their footfall and cycle tracks. The new found novelty that a countryside exists is going to destroy it unless there is education of the public. Hundreds of miles of public footpaths exist to be walked along. Intentional trespass can lead to damage of crops, frightening livestock, theft, damage to walls and fences. About time farmers and landowners had more power to protect their property. If you woke up and found strangers camping in your garden, leaving rubbish and sh.t behind, laying fires you may have something to say about it especially when you have to clear up the mess.
Anonymous User
03/04/2021
Sadly we do not live in an ideal world and I think legislation is probably long over due. Since Covid there has been a huge increase in people enjoying the countryside however many either do not abide by, or know about the Country Code. There appears to be an assumption of entitlement. As a result I have seen walkers tramp through crop fields, and dogs let off the lead near nesting birds, and other animals. But more than that, there appears to be a general lack of respect of the environment as witnessed by the huge increase in litter, especially the ubiquitous dog poo bags and Costa coffee cups.
Anonymous User
03/05/2021
Typical selfish farmers attitude "Unfortunately the general public do not have a clue about the countryside & wildlife. They tramp & cycle across it with no regard to, & completely oblivious of, the damage caused by their footfall & cycle tracks. The new found novelty that a countryside exists is going to destroy it unless there is education of the public. Hundreds of miles of public footpaths exist to be walked along. Intentional trespass can lead to damage of crops, frightening livestock, theft, damage to walls & fences. About time farmers & l&owners had more power to protect their property. If you woke up & found strangers camping in your garden, leaving rubbish & sh.t behind, laying fires you may have something to say about it especially when you have to clear up the mess."
So what about all the damage farming does, 100's of Cattle, sheep & horses trampling the ground, horses make a terrible mess of paths far worse than bycycles, all the animal waste, fertilizer & other chemicals going into the ground then the water, clearing trees that hold the soil in place, leaving the soil prone to being washed away & the lower ground to flooding, I've seen scrap, waste chemical containers & general farm rubbish dumped in any hole they can find, including at a water/river sources. Much of this l& was not earned or paid for but given due to the fuedal system a long time ago. Based on a report from the 1970s around 19m acres of l& in general is owned by 200 titled families. 32% of the UK l& is owned by titled families. It would be fairly certain that quite a bit of farming l& is owned by titled families (e.g. aristocrats). Not many farmers care about the countryside, only what profit they can get from the l&. You can't compare acres of l& that was given freely, much of it not used, to someones poky little back garden, try swapping your acres for a garden & no where else to go & see how you like it. Suggestion - if you have issues with walls/fences being regularly broken, how about you make styles, it's far cheaper than constant repairs. I say we should be looking at making more rights of way, this would benefit everyone, less need to repair damaged walls/fences. more routes so less footfall on each, also identify your land & provide contact numbers so people can actually ask you should they wish to camp etc. But lets face it, not many would camp without permission. I agree camping on farms without permission & open fires should definitely be a no no, it's totally unacceptable & unnecessary, use gas stoves!
I also agree dogs are a big problem & don't agree with them being off lead any where but your own property, they are a danger to livestock & other people. As for camping, fires, rubbish, it's down to a lack of respect for anyone & anything that prevails in society now, people steal from houses & businesses (probably much more) as well as farms you know. Unfortunately some people especially the young have little respect for anything but we raised them !

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