More than 100 artists and celebrities, including household names like Stephen Fry and Jarvis Cocker, have voiced their support for the campaign to open more of England’s countryside to the public.

In an open letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, the diverse array of high-profile signatories throw their weight behind the new campaign to extend the CRoW act to cover woodlands, rivers and Green Belt land, in order to give millions more people easier access to nature on their doorsteps.

The letter was published to mark the 20th anniversary of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) act, with signatories also including authors Ali Smith, George Monbiot, Robert Macfarlane and Helen Mort; artists Jeremy Deller, Jacqui Morris and Alan Moore; Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance; Radiohead guitarist Ed O’ Brien; and The Great Outdoors columnist Jim Perrin.

Connection with nature 

The letter states: “We write to you as authors, musicians, actors and artists, united in our belief that we all need greater access to the English countryside. In the books we write, the songs we sing, the art that we make, we celebrate the essential connection that we feel with nature. Our love for nature resonates with our millions of fans and followers, but in England, it is actively discouraged by the law. This is not only unfair; it is also untenable.

“Twenty years ago this week the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act became law. It introduced for the first time a Right to Roam in England, giving people access to some of our most beautiful landscapes.

“It has been both highly successful and incredibly popular, yet it covers only a fraction of our countryside. We have freedom to roam over just 8% of England, and only 3% of rivers in England and Wales are legally accessible to kayakers, paddle-boarders and wild swimmers. But just over the border in Scotland, the law encourages the public to swim, walk, camp, kayak, forage and climb, to connect with nature in a responsible manner that is better both for them and for the environment. Why should we, in England, be denied this right?

Follow the science 

The letter also highlights the disparity in access to nature across different communities and demographics within English society. “Access to nature is unequal: one in eight British households has no garden, and black people in England are nearly four times as likely as white people to have no outdoor space at home.”

The letter argues that lockdown has demonstrated how vital it is for the public to have access to green outdoor space for physical and mental wellbeing, and highlights the mounting body of scientific evidence showing just essential nature is for human health: “A simple walk in the woods can boost our immune system for a month afterwards. Exercising in a green space can help combat ADHD in children, and obesity, stress and depression in adults. Physical inactivity costs the NHS around £1bn per year, and wider society around £7.4bn per year. So let’s follow the science: to improve the health of our nation, to alleviate the pressure on the NHS, we need greater access to nature.”

Increased freedom should go hand in hand with the fostering of a greater sense of stewardship and responsibility, the letter argues. It says: “Freedom to roam does not mean the freedom to trample or litter. We need to strengthen and promote the Countryside Code, to teach respect for the essential work of farmers and encourage a culture of care and love for the countryside through early years education. Our children must learn about nature in the best way possible: by actually being in it. Only with a visceral, lived experience of nature can we grow to really care for it.”

Guy Shrubsole of www.righttoroam.org.uk, one of the organisers of the campaign behind the letter, said: “the law of the land should not be criminalising our desire to connect with nature – it should be encouraging it. Our neighbours in Scotland, which practices the right to roam, see their connection to nature as a birthright, so why should we, in England, be denied this right? Extending the English Right to Roam would be a bold and far reaching act by this government which would resonate for years to come.”

You can read the full letter here.

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