LARGE areas of Pendle countryside could be opened up to the public because of new government legislation.

Access to countryside, or the 'Right to Roam' is still in the consultation process, but Pendle Council is already discussing the implications for the borough.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) will create a new right of access to open countryside in the following categories of land; mountain, moorland, heath, down and registered common land.

And according to a report by the Highways, Engineering and Design Services, a 'significant' area of Pendle is likely to be opened up under the new legislation.

Earlier in the year, ramblers were disappointed when all footpaths in Lancashire were closed during the foot and mouth crisis.

The area remained closed even after the ban was lifted, due to its proximity to the Ribble Valley -- one of the areas in Lancashire worst affected.

The Countryside Agency has a duty under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000) to produce maps showing which land will be available for open access. The maps will allow the maximum opportunity for the public, public bodies and landowners to have their say on which is included.

A draft map for the whole of Lancashire has been produced. Anyone can comment on this map during the first stage of the consultation process. The maps can be seen in any of the main libraries in Lancashire.

Walter Waide, a member of the Ramblers Association and their local access officer, has been helping the Countryside Agency to put the maps together.

He said: "Land and access to it is always a very contentious issue. People think they are going to get millions of ramblers walking all over it.

"There are no more ramblers now than there was 10 years ago. If anything, when more land is made available to walkers, we will be thinner on the ground.

"Overall, I am extremely pleased. It is something that should be made available and will be made available."