Update: More news on Drws Cefn legal threats

Ogof Draenen – should this be the only entrance? Photo: Paul Fairman
Ogof Draenen – should this be the only entrance? Photo: Paul Fairman

We reported on 24 November 2015 about the legal action threatened by cavers Stuart France and Nigel Rogers against Natural Resources Wales (NRW) and the landowner concerning their claim to have access rights to Drws Cefn under the CRoW legislation.

In the latest development in this long-running issue, their solicitors have now been sent a robust reply by NRW. They state that:

“In relation to your question about whether caves are accessible as of right under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW). Whilst we have had sight of the opinion of Dinah Rose QC, we have also had sight of other opinions and have obtained our own internal legal opinion which concludes that CROW does not provide a right of access to caves and potholes.  We understand this is consistent with the interpretation of Natural England and Defra on this matter.”

They also state:

“The point and position is plainly summarised in guidance provided initially at the commencement of CROW in 2005 in a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document produced by the Countryside Council for Wales and retained in the updated document provided by NRW:

  1. Does access on foot include pot holing and caving?
  2. No. As the CRoW Act covers access for the purposes of open-air recreation, potholing and caving are not included in the right.

This guidance can be found at https://naturalresources.wales/media/1174/change-oafaqtemplated1.pdf

Is this the clarity on the legal position that the BCA has been seeking? Should cavers now move on to other issues?

Whatever cavers’ individual views on CRoW, whether they’re firmly on that side of the debate, or feel that protection of caves and good relations with landowners is far more important than any benefit that could be gained from it, we can all hope that this strongly-worded response from NRW ends all talk of cavers taking legal action against landowners over access.

Any legal action is just as likely to lead to reduced access as it is to greater rights, not least because many caves are not on access land and good relations with landowners must remain paramount.