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We join 250 organisations in signing an open letter against the Policing Bill. Here’s why

18th March 2021

CPRE, the countryside charity, has signed an open letter to the Home Secretary and Secretary of State for Justice expressing ‘profound concern and alarm’ about the contents of the new Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill.

CPRE, the countryside charity, has stood alongside almost 250 organisations raising concerns about the controversial Policing Bill. The Bill includes new trespass and protest offences, risking putting a ‘do not enter’ sign across the country and further limiting access to the very green spaces that enrich all of our lives.

Countryside for all: a core CPRE principle

It’s no surprise that our chief executive has added his name to this important letter to the government. CPRE has a long history of calling for the countryside to be open to, and enjoyed by, all.

As early as 1932, CPRE, or The Council for the Protection of Rural England, as we were then, was commissioning research on the topic. This included a detailed report by the climber and photographer Philip Barnes about access to the Peak District. This was an area that Barnes was passionate about – and the site of the Kinder Scout mass trespass of 1932.

This event, now part of countryside lore, saw hundreds of ramblers trespass in the Peak District in an act of civil disobedience to assert their right to roam. Barnes was by then an expert on the subject, having spent a large part of 1932 getting to know the reasons behind what he called ‘the agitation for greater freedom of access’ to the wild areas of the Peaks and producing detailed maps of all the disputed footpaths and trespass routes.

'We at CPRE believe that the countryside is for all of us.'

Barnes went on to argue passionately for ancient rights of access to be restored, kicking off a process that would see CPRE be instrumental in the Access to the Countryside provisions of the National Parks Act 1949. It is in defence of the principles behind that legislation that we continue to raise our voice for the countryside to be available – and welcoming – to all. And, as we at CPRE believe that the countryside is for all of us, we’re alarmed to see these principles and subsequent hard-won rights of access being eroded in this policing Bill.

'We’re alarmed to see the rights of access that were hard-won being eroded in this Policing Bill.'

The open letter also notes that the Bill includes a new trespass offence that criminalises the way of life of nomadic Gypsy and Traveller communities. We believe that criminalising people for having nowhere else to go won’t prevent unauthorised encampments and that the onus is on the government to provide more authorised sites.

No frack-free without protest

And more than this: the limitations undermine the freedoms that have helped the countryside for decades. The Bill plans for new police powers to decide where, when and how citizens are allowed to protest and have their voices heard by those in power.

'Without the right to protest and run non-violent activities that caused disruption and trespassing, the countryside wouldn't be the place it is today.'

We know that without the right to protest and run non-violent activities that caused disruption and trespassing, the countryside wouldn’t be the place it is today. Fracking, for example, would still exist in England if it wasn’t for protests by local communities. We have protests and organising by the likes of the remarkable Nanashire UK, Frack Free and the Roseacre Awareness Group to thank for the fact that the government pulled the plug on fracking in 2019.

We’ll keep standing for the countryside – for all

As the open letter text notes, ‘this is a huge bill, both in length and in potential consequences.’ We’ve been alarmed to see it rushed through parliament and we add our voice to others in urging the government to fundamentally rethink its approach.

We’ll continue to insist that the right to be in the countryside and benefit from it is one that should be extended to all. The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us how much we value these green spaces – for work, community and wellness, and we’ll keep working to stand with it and its residents and visitors.

Want to be a part of it? Become a member now.

CPRE staff at climate strike protest
CPRE national office staff gather for a group shot to mark the charity's participation in the 2019 global climate strike


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