How British riders would benefit from a Labour pledge to introduce a Scottish-style right to roam law

Two gravel riders on the West Highland Way entering Glencoe, with Buachaille Etive Mor in background
Will other riders outwith Scotland soon benefit from a new right to roam law (Image credit: Paul Brett)

After an outbreak of public anger and protest in January, when wealthy landowners, Alexander and Diana Darwall won their High Court challenge against the right to wild camp in Dartmoor National Park. That effectively placed a ban on wild camping and self-supported bike packing on Dartmoor. The public outcry triggered a wider debate on access laws in England in Westminster, with the then Labour shadow environment secretary Jim McMahon saying, "There are still huge parts of England and Wales that are off limits when it comes to the right to access, and that it needs to change" and added, "a Labour party elected government would look to pass a right to roam act and reverse the ban."

The current Labour Party shadow environment minister, Alex Sobel, has now announced during a fresh debate in the House of Commons, secured by the Green MP, Caroline Lucas, who has been campaigning for wider access to the countryside. Sobel pledged to introduce a new act based on the Scottish-style right to roam law in England if it wins the next general election, with access to green space becoming law.

Bikepacking on Dartmoor

The vast majority of wild campers and bikepackers are respectful to their surroundings (Image credit: Mike Hayes)

Only eight percent of England currently has right-to-roam access, which mainly covers coastal paths, mountains and moorland. Some private landowners, such as the National Trust and some farmers, open their land and pathways for people to walk in and that is not included in the 8 percent figure.

In Scotland, there is a right to walk or cycle through the countryside, leaving no trace, and under a newly elected Labour government,people in England could be granted the same rights.

Rider on the HT550 bikepacking route

Scotland already has incredible access for bikepacking adventure (Image credit: Huw Oliver)

Right to roam benefits

The General Public Right of Access Act of Scotland introduced in 2003 – commonly referred to as a "right to roam", has seen an adventure biking community thrive, and new Scotish bikepacking routes like the HT550 and The Capital Trail, just outside Edinburgh being developed. With riders being able to enjoy multi-day adventure riding and camping responsibly, almost anywhere without having the fear of upsetting landowners.

The benefits of a similar right to roam law passed in England would be huge for everyone accessing the outdoors including mountain bike riders, gravel riders and adventure bikepackers, with the exciting potential of new bikepacking routes being developed and added to the list of the best UK bikepacking routes.

The Right to Roam campaign said in response, "We welcome the Labour party’s commitment to legislating for a right to roam law, and we look forward to engaging with them on the details."

Like the turning of a bikepacker's wheels, this is a story that will continue to roll on and on, and is sure to draw voters to the Labour Part cause. However, unless an earlier one is called, the next general election isn't due until January 2025. So there could be plenty of debate and protests from both sides still to come.

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm