Swimmers carried placards emblazoned with the slogan ‘GO SWIMMING’ at the event supported by Alpkit and The Outdoor Swimming Society (OSS). Groups including OSS and the Right To Roam campaign are once again calling for free and open access rights to bodies of water, akin to that of Scotland, where swimmers have enjoyed unfettered access to almost all 800 of the country’s reservoirs since 2003. Allowing access rights to reservoirs in England and Wales would mean 2000 more dipping spots would open up, mitigating issues with overuse and overcrowding as outdoor swimming continues to surge in popularity.
92% of the countryside including bodies of water within it, and 97% of rivers are not open to the public in England. Lack of access to the countryside disproportionately affects minority and lower income groups, and with so much of England’s green and pleasant lands off limits, honeypot areas in national parks and nature reserves often form as people clammer to experience the mental and physical benefits of time outdoors. Overcrowding in the very few areas with public access has a knock-on effect on the environment, wildlife habitat and ultimately, peoples’ enjoyment of these spaces.
Currently, taking the plunge in water where the right of access is contested means you could very well be accused of trespass, which is a civil offence, though not a criminal one, and The Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoW) in its current state only includes walking as a permissible activity on land where access is allowed.
The Right To Roam campaign is pushing for extensions to the CRoW Act that would cover more of the countryside as well as more activities. A new English Outdoor Access Code, like that adopted by Scotland in 2003, would mean access rights would be decided by democratic discussion rather than landowner edict, and a clear set of rights and responsibilities would be set out for people using those spaces, including a much greater emphasis on promoting the Countryside Code.
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