Countryside and Rights of Way Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:30 pm on 1st November 2000.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton Government Whip 5:30 pm, 1st November 2000

My Lords, the purpose of the list of exceptions in Schedule 1 is to exclude public access from land which may be mapped as open country or registered common land but to which a right of access should none the less not apply--for example, buildings and their curtilages. Nature reserves do not fall into that category.

English Nature has powers stemming from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 to designate land as a national nature reserve or a local nature reserve, with the aim of securing protection and appropriate management of the most important areas of wildlife habitat. Many reserves have public access. Indeed, they positively encourage it, as my noble friend Lord Hardy of Wath said. With relatively few exceptions, access and wildlife can co-exist without significant problems.

My noble friend referred to public access in Scotland to see the osprey. There is a marvellous bird sanctuary near the Llyn Brianne reservoir in Wales where the same applies. There should be no automatic presumption that the conservation of such sites is incompatible with access, particularly when account is taken of the modest nature of the new right and the restrictions that will apply to it.

If a reserve has been mapped as open countryside or registered as common land and there are particular problems with access, the Bill specifically provides for closures or restrictions on grounds of conservation. Clause 24 provides for the relevant authority--the Countryside Agency in England and the Countryside Council for Wales, or in national parks, the relevant national park authority--to issue directions excluding or restricting access for reasons of nature conservation. In doing so, the authority must have regard to the advice of the appropriate statutory advisory body: English Nature for land in England. We have made provision for any case to be referred to the Secretary of State (or the National Assembly) if English Nature (or its Welsh equivalent) still has concerns.

There is no question of compromising our conservation objectives in favour of access. Part III of the Bill reflects our commitment to the protection of wildlife and nature conservation. We are determined to ensure that vulnerable habitats are protected as necessary. But the impact of access on wildlife must be put in perspective: most designated reserves have some form of access and this has not given rise to significant problems.

The noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, raised the issue of MoD land. There is a variety of factors. It is certainly the case that the MoD is very proud of some of the work that it has done. On occasions, it may be because slightly less mechanised and less intensive forms of farming take place on some MoD land. However, I agree that the MoD has a good record.

The Government recognise that there may be cases where conflicts arise and where access needs to be restricted, or even excluded altogether. I assure my noble friend Lord Hardy that the Bill provides for that. We therefore believe that a blanket exclusion of nature reserves is not the right approach; it is neither needed nor justified. I hope that I have thoroughly convinced my noble friend, and that he will not feel it necessary to press his amendment.