Public Access to Private Land for Walking: Environmental and Individual Responsibility as Rationale for Limiting the Right to Exclude
53 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2011
Date Written: June 20, 2011
Whether people have an independent right of access to walk on land they do not own is a question answered differently throughout the world, largely due to cultural, historical, and political variations amongst regions. In this decade, English citizens gained a legislated right to roam on privately owned land designated by the government for public access. The British government now designates land as access land by evaluating the nature of the land itself, not its ownership status. In Sweden, the right to roam on land owned by another has long been a deeply rooted cultural tradition, though not codified in law. Other countries have adopted variations of a right of access, while some, like the United States, continue largely to resist it, choosing instead to hold property owners’ right to exclude above a public right of access. This paper looks at some of the historical and cultural reasons countries have adopted, cherished, or rejected a public right of access to privately owned land. In particular, it focuses on the degree to which each culture values environmental and individual responsibility.
To do so, it considers the Scandinavian countries, with an emphasis on Sweden, where a public right of access is longstanding and cherished, and there is a corresponding deep respect for the environment and individual responsibility. It then considers England, which has moved decisively toward granting broader rights of access to certain types of land through legislation, grounding that expansion on the satisfaction of certain rules pertaining to environmental and individual responsibility. It also looks briefly at several countries in Europe, where environmental and individual responsibility, as well as other cultural factors, have supported expanded rights of access. Finally, it raises the question why the United States does not have, and will not likely achieve, a similar legislated or cultural right of access to private land for walking.
Keywords: right to exclude, public access, right of access, England, Sweden, allemansratt, environmental responsibility, individual responsibility, rights of way
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