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We are deeply dismayed by the Prospectus, published on 26 January by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which sets out the various actions for which farmers and land managers will be paid under the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS). Defra claims that there is something there for everyone, but sadly, this is not so.
For more than six years, organisations concerned with promoting public access to the countryside have been calling for farm payments to be directed to providing more and better-quality public access. Ministers have repeatedly promised public money will pay for public goods, and affirmed that this includes payments for access.
Now we see the raw truth and the broken promises. Only a pittance of the £2.4 billion farming budget will be spent on ‘exploring how we can pay for actions covering permissive access’ alongside money for ‘managing existing access pressures’ (ie restricting access).
We set out our proposals for government on how agricultural money could fund better-quality access, for instance by leaving cross-field paths unploughed, mowing headlands and green lanes, creating greater path-widths, and providing more signposting and waymarking. It should also pay for new access: circular walks and rides, routes which take people off busy roads and narrow lanes, or which provide means of reaching isolated pieces of mapped access land. There are many possibilities, which will encourage greater enjoyment of the outdoors and of nature. Yet these appear to have been ignored.
Says our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook: ‘We feel betrayed by Defra ministers, after years of keeping us waiting with what have proved to be empty promises. With other user groups we shall put pressure on ministers to keep those promises and to recognise the vital need for public money to pay for public access. It is surely a no-brainer.’