WE are an island race, and our culture has been shaped by the fact that we are surrounded by the sea. It has been our defence, a source of commerce and now it is a place of leisure – if you can get at it that is. Large sections of coastline in Wales and England are denied to the public because they are owned by the Crown, or private landowners, and there is no right of access.
But not for much longer. A proposal has been made to open up the coast to give people a right to roam the 2,733 miles of coastline in England and Wales – they’ve already got it in Scotland.
But wouldn’t you know it as soon as the word public access is muttered, landowners start grumbling at the prospect of urban hordes making their way out to picnic on sites of special scientific interest.
Because that’s what you would do if you were given a right to roam the coastline isn’t it? You’d get up of a morning, turn to your lovely wife and say: “Darling, today I’m going to exercise my right to roam the coastline by plonking my fat behind on a tern’s nest while enjoying a pork pie and a glass of dandelion and burdock out in the sunshine.”
I would be more inclined to believe their portents of doom if this had happened in Scotland, but it hasn’t. Where are the stories of wanton destruction of rare habitats north of the border due to a right to roam the coastline? There are none.
Furthermore, we’ve had a right to roam the countryside in England and Wales now, and when that happened there was a right commotion from landowners who warned it spelt disaster for farming/the environment/civilisation as we know it.
Where are the stories of right to roam causing any such damage? Any reports of hooligan ramblers trampling crops in an orgy of red-socked vandalism? No I can’t recall them either.
Where are the charabancs loaded with sink-estate youths descending upon areas where previously sheep safely grazed? None to be seen.
The idea that people are going to make their way to the areas involved in any significant numbers is sheer fancy. Getting people to walk any significant distance from their B&B is a major achievement and it would be a sea-change in national character if we suddenly became a nation of hikers, seeking out the roads less travelled just because the government opened up the coastline. It’s a nice thought though.
Firstly there won’t be any of the facilities many people want when they go to the seaside – car parking, toilets, somewhere to buy a bucket and spade. Secondly those who would dedicate themselves to walking in these hitherto restricted areas are hardly the kind of people who would wantonly ignore restrictions placed to protect wildlife.
In fact anyone who was intent on trampling birds’ nesting grounds is going to do it anyway, right to roam or not. Landowners are talking about ‘managed access’ with warden-controlled areas. But that’s not a right to roam is it, if you’ve got some warden breathing down your neck warning you where you can and cannot walk.
In Wales the coastline is one of the main reasons people visit us and opening up mor of it to public access can only bring in more visitors, more money, more jobs. I’m looking for a downside and I can’t see one.
The present government’s troubles over sleaze, an oversexed deputy prime ministers and the war in Iraq make it all too easy to forget its real achievements since 1997 and the right to roam was one of them.
ALUN Pugh’s call to language campaigners to put down their paint brushes may seem a sensible one. He wants to spend cash on the language, he says, and cash is being wasted cleaning public buildings of their daubed slogans.
I’ve said before that some of the campaigns launched by language protesters have been counter-productive, particularly those aimed at tourists who are coming here to spend money and should be made to feel welcome, not like a gatecrasher at chapel.
But Mr Pugh seems to have forgotten that civil disobedience and non-violent protest has a long and honourable record in British politics.
If he doubts this he might want to inquire of the present Welsh Secretary as to what can be achieved by such tactics. As a leading light in the anti-apartheid movement ( his parents were ‘banned persons’ under the South African apartheid regime) he led the campaign which disrupted the South African rugby and cricket tours of the UK.
An honourable record indeed. If young people are prepared to go to prison for what they believe, and this has been the case recent with Gwenno Teifi, then Alan Pugh ought to talk to them rather than lecture them on wasting money.
FINALLY, just to ratchet up the excitement as the World Cup approaches, a little more about my chosen team – Ghana. Well, their nickname is the Black Stars – from the country’s tricolor flag which bears a black star in the centre – and under the visionary leadership of coach Ratomir Dujkovic they qualified top of their group and have notched up victories against Jamaica and the Korean Republic in their warm-up games.
The shining lights of the Black Stars (see what I did there) are skipper, Stephen Appiah, and Chelsea’s Michael Essien – who was Africa’s most expensive player.
Their first match is on June 12 against Italy. I’ve yet to find out what their fans chant, but you’ll be the first to know when I do