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We'll fight you on open access; NEW GROUP LAUNCHES FUND APPEAL.

Byline: ANDREW FORGRAVE Rural Affairs Editor

FARMERS, anglers and landowners have united under a single banner with the aim of blocking "free-for-all" access to the Welsh countryside.

Sustainable Access Campaign Cymru (SACC) said it may challenge forthcoming access legislation currently being prepared by the Welsh Government.

It has launched a fighting fund with donations used to meet legal costs.

Next month the Welsh Government is due to unveil a green paper setting out its proposals to "modernise and simplify" existing public access legislation.

Pre-consultation talks have fuelled fears that Cardiff wants to remove all access restrictions to land and water.

Opponents have labelled the move as the "nationalisation" of land and rivers that would damage fishing interests, fuel a farm liability crisis and threaten Wales' footpath network.

"A free-for-all would create chaos in the countryside," said Rachel Evans, director of the Countryside Alliance in Wales.

One argument in favour or great access is a potential increase in visitors to Wales.

But critics say local wishes are being ignored and CLA Wales director Ben Underwood said the proposals could have a major impact on the rural economy.

"We would strongly resist any blanket proposals that did not take into account local diversity," he said.

The proposals have set rural groups on a collision course with recreational users, with anglers fearful of unfettered access for canoeing and other water sports.

Canoe Wales favours the simplification of access legislation and the formal education of countryside responsibilities. But Angling Cymru, the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association and the Angling Trust & Fish Legal, have all signed up to SACC.

Tony Rees, chair of Angling Cymru, said Cardiff had shown interest in replicating Scotland's right to roam arrangements.

He said: "Angling businesses on rivers such as the Tay have lost visiting anglers because of an influx of commercial rafting companies that make fishing impossible."

A recent survey of every fishing club in Wales found that anglers contribute almost PS5m-a-year to the rural economy - much more than recreational river users, it is claimed. Even with wider access, they would still face rents while other users go free, they said.

Farmers fear the impact on their industry could be even worse. Not only would they face the prospect of more dog attacks on livestock, and more off-road motorists and bikers, they are worried about the potential for litigation.

Currently, farmers with field footpaths can remove livestock to avoid liability. But with open access, livestock would have no where else to go.

Ramblers have also expressed concern about the national footpath network, especially if highway authorities are absolved of their duty to maintain footpaths. The Welsh Government said that, as well as access provision, it will look to boost the number of green spaces and allotments.

It said the health, social and economic benefits of outdoor recreation for the wider public had long been recognised.

The proposals, it said, would provide "clarity and certainty over where people can go and what they can do there".

The green paper is due out for consultation before Christmas.

"The need for safeguards to protect the environment and wildlife is a key principle of the review," said a spokeswoman.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Conwy, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 21, 2013
Words:527
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