We are delighted by the commitment from the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, that ‘public access is a public good’ and should be part of the post-Brexit payment scheme for farmers.
Michael Gove was setting out his vision for the future of farming at the Oxford Farming Conference on 4 January. He said that government will in future pay for what people value and that will include public access which ‘will help reconnect urban dwellers with the earth’ and will ‘help secure consent for investment in the countryside as well as support for British produce’.
Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘These are welcome words. Public access brings significant benefits, not least to people’s health and well-being and to rural economies since walkers and riders spend in the locality.
‘We have been urging, with other recreation bodies, for farmers to be rewarded for providing good-quality additional public access—and we are pleased that the government has heard us. Now we need to work on the details.
‘We want to see agricultural payments given in exchange for new access, targeted where people need it. Priorities could be to link existing routes, provide safer off-road paths, or increase the number of bridleways where horse-riders have no place to go.
‘There could also be rewards for enhancing current access, such as providing greater path-widths or removing stiles for ease of use.
‘If those receiving a grant do not comply with the law on public paths, for example by obstructing a route or failing to reinstate it after ploughing, they should be penalised by withdrawal of public payments. There needs to be efficient inspection and enforcement mechanisms to ensure the law is obeyed.
‘We look forward to discussing with ministers the new opportunities to create and improve access as a public good,’ says Kate.