The English people have access to around 8% of the land and 3% of the waterways in England. To walk on the land of the other 90% will require permission from the land owner or you will be committing a trespass. Much of this land belongs to hereditary aristocrats, who own one third of the country and foreign corporations are not far behind. A large part is owned by the Ministry of Defense, own 1.8% and the National Trust and the Crown.
In 2005 our British neighbour Scotland introduced new laws allowing access to all its land for recreational or educational purposes, providing people do not walk too close to people’s homes or gardens. They have the right to camp, make fires and run some commercial activities if they are connected to leisure.
The Scottish are not alone in Europe with this right, you can also roam the land in Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia and the Czech Republic.
The waterways in England are divided up with imaginary lines to the property owners and the law states that in order to swim in it, or pass through it in a boat you are trespassing if you do not seek permission. With the exception of the 3% the law allows us.
Trees in Leafield Oxfordshire
Much of the land was divided up during the time of William the Conqueror in the Eleventh Century and has been passed down from family to family since that time. Others gained great wealth from Empire, often at the expense of slaves or through exploitation or conquest and purchased large portions of the land and passed this down to their decedents.
Most of this land is protected from inheritance tax as it is registered at offshore tax havens like The British Virgin Islands where they are exempt from tax.
The value of England lies within its land and the majority of this land is owned by just a tiny proportion of its residents or overseas interests owning the land for investment. The commercial profit ends up in just a few pockets where it could be put to the benefit of the local communities.
It is not just the commercial aspect of the land that benefits a few, the enormous benefits of spending time in the land, the mental health benefits and pleasure to be gained.
Nick Hayes, in his wonderful book, The Book of Trespass writes that England is full, full of space. It is space that the people have been forbidden from, hidden behind walls.
If we are serious about tackling inequality, then why do we allow people with the most to avoid inheritance tax? Why do we not follow Scotland and open up the land of our nation to our people?
Can we not nationalise parts of the land for the common good? The land could be used to create green energy through solar farms, or communal areas developed as green working spaces for businesses with an ethical agenda, or used for conservation and re-wilded to benefit our biodiversity; land can be used by the community, to build green affordable housing projects or to generate income that can be ploughed back into local communities. The opportunities are endless.
Under our current laws we allow the gap between the rich and the poor to increase year on year. Parts of our country is lost to overseas investment and hidden behind walls for the benefit of none of its own people.
Views along the Thames near Eynsham in Oxfordshire
The people who govern us or run our media outlets are often those who own large proportions of our land. We need to look behind the veil and not rely upon our political elite. In 2019 the Labour Party came forward with a radical plan for land reform which was dismissed by parts of the press as Marxism. You can take a look here at their proposals and decide for yourself.
Often our fears stop us from taking the radical action needed, the fear of change or losing our financial stability or our freedoms. The press play into this and use dramatic headlines that influence us and freeze us into inaction or confusion. It is time we step away from this manipulation and stand up for ourselves and demand a fairer society and turn the tide on the ever increasing gap between the haves and the have not’s.
What can you do to help change the status quo?
Join the alliance of ramblers, wild swimmers, paddle-boarders, kayakers, authors, artists and activists.
For more information visit The Right to Roam website by clicking here.
Further reading: The book of Trespass by Nick Hayes
Article and photography by Ben Molyneux