Why the 'Right to Roam' Is So Important

No matter where in the world you live, public access to land should be the status quo.

Beautiful Rolling Scottish Countryside At Dusk
The Scottish countryside . Cavan Images / Getty Images

Land is a controversial topic in many circles, fought over by a series of competing interests. Many of you may already be familiar with some or all of the points of contention when it comes to land, access to it, and how it should be used. 

One of the major areas of disagreement is how we can balance the rights of the private landowner with the rights of the public to access natural areas. 

This issue is a fraught one in the British Isles, where very different policies on the topic are found north of the border here in Scotland, and south of the border, in England and Wales. 

In Scotland, the majority of the country is owned by just a small number of landowners, but we have the "right to roam" (with certain caveats, of course). 

But across the border, there is no free movement in most areas and landowners can reinforce trespass laws where they wish to keep people off their land. 

No matter where in the world you live, public access to land is an important issue. Whether you are able to roam freely, or your ability to traverse the landscape is severely curtailed by private owners, this is an issue that has a profound impact in a range of ways. 

Access to Land Helps Us Connect to Our Natural Environment

One reason that access to land is so important is that when we are able to roam across a landscape, it allows us to get up close and personal with the natural environment in which we live. 

This can be important because, all too often, that connection to a more natural setting can be lost—especially in busy urban environments. 

A feeling of connection to, and a deeper understanding of, the natural environment will naturally arise from spending time within it. And this has been shown to improve health, both mental and physical, and foster a sense of belonging, which leads to a sense of responsibility and a desire to look after and protect the land itself. 

Access to Land Helps to Reduce Social Inequalities

Where so much land is "owned" by so few, there is huge inherent injustice and inequality. There are those who have been able to accumulate wealth through their land, while those who would historically have depended on that land are left to face hardships and social inequalities. 

Regardless of ownership, land that is shared, at least to the degree that people can access it on hikes or other slow travel adventures, can help to reduce social inequalities and improve people's quality of life. 

Of course, there are many more questions about how land can be used to reduce social inequalities in different regions and areas. But improving access to land for those who do not live on or own it is a good place to start. 

Access to Land Allows us to Understand Land Use More Clearly

Another reason that it is so important, in my opinion, for there to be free access to land is that when we are able to walk or otherwise travel across larger areas of private land, we can see more clearly how that land is used, and make judgements about those uses. 

Of course, we will not typically have a say on how others use their land, but where these properties cover huge areas, one might argue that it is in the public interest for negligent or incorrect landowners to be held to account. 

Often large farms or estates where people are not allowed to roam operate in ways largely unknown and unexamined by the majority of people. Access to land can change this somewhat, making it easier for us to see what large landowners might be doing right, and which areas need improvement. After all, how land is treated won't just impact large landowners. It impacts us all. 

When we have access, we have information, and whichever side on various arguments we happen to find ourselves on, we will be better armed to argue cogently for our beliefs when we have the information we need.