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Kinder in Colour: Access to the countryside for all

To mark the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, a group of walkers insist on their right to access the countryside, especially for people of colour.

Kinder in Colour
Adela Sobrepera

On the weekend of 23 and 24 April, walkers and nature lovers from across the UK came together in the Peak District to mark the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass – an act of civil disobedience in which ordinary people reclaimed their right to roam, and which eventually lead to the creation of Britain’s first National Park. On 24 April 1932, three groups of walkers approached Kinder Scout from different directions to highlight that working-class people were denied access to the countryside. At the time, the majority of the land at Kinder Scout was privately owned and reserved for landowners and industrialists for the purpose of grouse shooting. This trespass, in which several walkers were arrested, is said to have paved the way for the passage of the National Parks legislation in 1948, and helped establish the Pennine Way and other long-distance footpaths.

On Sunday, the focus of the day was not only celebrating the right to roam 90 years on but reflecting on ongoing issues of access to the countryside, particularly for BPOC (Black and People of Colour) people. The event at Edale, called Kinder in Colour, was organised by Right to Roam, with the support of BPOC-led organisations such as Land in Our Names, Black Girls Hike, Muslim Hikers and many others. The opening ceremony included speeches from Maxwell Ayamba, journalist, environmentalist and co-founder of the 100 Black Men Walk for Health Group, and Anita Sethi, author of the acclaimed book I Belong Here: a Journey Along the Backbone of Britain.

“This event is historic, not only because it marks 90 years of the trespass, but because it is the first time in the history of this country that people of colour have come together to celebrate and stake claim to the countryside, for the right to roam”, said Mr Ayamba.

“People of colour are invisible in spaces historically perceived as white spaces, shaped by the histories of colonialism and imperialism. We are here to advocate for these spaces to be de-racialised and democratised”.

Mr Ayamba pointed out that, often, the daily struggles faced by migrants and those who live in urban communities in terms of jobs, health and education means that leisure and recreation cannot be prioritised.

Kinder in Colour
Adela Sobrepera

Mr Ayamba also presented facts that highlight the ongoing injustice of land ownership in the UK – currently, ordinary people only have the right to roam on 8 percent of countryside land, the rest being owned by the aristocracy, the gentry and The Crown.

Anita Sethi spoke of her journey to reclaim her right to the countryside in the north of England, after she was racially abused on a train in a vicious attack in which her very right to exist in the country she was born in was challenged. Following this attack, the writer embarked on a walking journey across the Pennines in order to assert her right to be here. Reading from her thought-provoking book, Anita Sethi asked “How can nature help us find a greater sense of belonging? And how can we ensure that people care enough to realise that nature and wildlife belong as much to this world as us humans do?”

After these inspiring speeches, a guided ritual took place to create a space in which BPOC walkers felt safe and welcome, before all walkers set off on a circular route that closely followed that of the original Kinder Scout trespass, with shorter options available. A hot meal was served to all at the end of the day.

This year, the commemoration of the Kinder Scout trespass is more important than ever, as the PCSC Bill (Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill) continues to make its way through our legislative process. This Bill threatens our hard-won right to roam in open spaces as it proposes to make trespass a criminal offence rather than a civil offence

“This will send the signal that the countryside is not an open resource, available to all, but a place of complex rules and regulations, whereby a walker who starts off on a public footpath could end up with a criminal sentence” explained Maxwell Ayamba. “Already there’s a history of people of colour and black people and the police in cities, with stop and search”

This change in legislation would make it possible for landowners to criminalise harmless and often accidental trespass.

An estimated 400 people attended the event organised by Kinder in Colour on Sunday. The group arranged buses to and from Edale from across England, including from Newcastle, Birmingham, Manchester and London. Members of Extinction Rebellion Sheffield were amongst those assisting with stewarding, helping set up and signpost people to the event.

As Anita Sethi says, “the original Kinder Scout trespassers knew walking could be a radical, political act that would lead to change and that walking could be a way of saying ‘I belong here’”.

As we mark the 90th anniversary of the Kinder Scout mass trespass, we must continue to fight for the right for the countryside to be open and accessible to everyone.

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