Ombudsman calls for law to allow ramblers access through countryside

Access rights could give ramblers access to private land where landowner agrees to let people use it for specific use

Parliamentary Ombudsman Anthony C. Mifsud and the Commissioner for Environment and Planning David Pace have said there is an urgent need for the setting-up of rambling trails locally and raise awareness and appreciation of Malta’s natural and historical heritage.

In an own-initiative investigation, culminating in the report ‘Access to the countryside – the right to ramble’, the Ombudsman suggested a possible method for a legislative framework within which rambling can be carried out without prejudicing landowners’ rights to the peaceful enjoyment of their property.

In meetings with the Ramblers’ Association of Malta, the need to establish a series of rambling trails which would define the available pathways were also discussed.

The report suggests a novel way of environmental conservation, rather than letting the countryside open to unchecked roaming, often with harmful consequences, passage ways through the countryside will offer controlled paths strictly for areas of sensitive ecological or environmental importance, while opening up new vistas which to date are inaccessible for a number of reasons.

The Commissioner for Environment and Planning recommends enacting legislation that introduces the concept of access rights as in the English and Scottish models, which give the right to access to private land where the landowner has agreed to let people use it for specific use and under clear guidelines.

“This system offers a win-win situation where a property is not ceded or abdicated but the owner’s rights are reinforced by the granting of access rights which would, therefore, recognise the prerogative of landowners to regulate such access. In return, the presence of groups of ramblers will serve as a deterrent against vandalism and damage to paths, structures and infrastructures forming part of the trail and will provide a monitoring and ‘watchdog’ service in favour of the upkeep and preservation of the landscape,” Mifsud said.

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