A Right to Roam
by Marion Shoad
Oxford University Press, 1999, 8.99

'Land is central to the lives of all living things on the planet, human and non-human, living and as yet unborn. Such a resource cannot simply be treated as private property.' Discuss.

It might well be a question posed to candidates in some degree course on countryside management, but it is a question very much to the forefront of politics and the spirit of the age, today. In this deeply detailed and well-research book, Marion Shoard fairly and faithfully puts forward the arguments for and against a right to roam freely on our hillsides and across the moors, setting many of the arguments against examples of practice in Scandinavian countries which, by comparison, are racing far ahead of Britain in the Free Access Stakes.

Anyone with an interest in, or a need to be knowledgeable about, the countryside generally will find that this book also provides extensive historical information, filling in many gaps, and putting flesh of the bones of general knowledge. Remarkably, Marion Shoard has maintained a fairly even hand in all her arguments, and put her points across objectively, when the compulsion must have been to shout them out very subjectively. That she succeeds is a commendable achievement, and the book is all the more readable for that.

With a confidence that I find it hard to share, Marion Shoard concludes that sooner or later the right will be ours. I'd like to see it in my lifetime, but history is against it. This debate has been going on since the Middle Ages.

And, if I'm wrong, who would be the best authority to administer and police the administration of access rights? - local authorities, with their in-built inertia and parochial conflicts, or some centralised and distant quango? One thing is certain: whoever has the task of administering our Right to Roam, must have their funding arrangements protected and sacrosanct from 'budgetary cuts'.

Terry Marsh

TERRY MARSH is a Freelance Travel Writer and Photographer trading as COUNTRY MATTERS and Country Images Picture Library

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