The government’s betrayal on access—but it’s not too late

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The society and other user groups have long campaigned for payments for access to be a part of the new, post-Brexit, environmental land management scheme (ELMS). We were dismayed when this was not included in the announcement on funding for the first level, the sustainable farming incentive (SFI). But the environment secretary, George Eustice, is now claiming that it was never the government’s intention to fund access in the SFI.

Hartfield footpath

A direct cross-field path encouraging public access

He announced this in an interview with the Farmers’ Guardian, and in response to our general secretary’s question at the Wildlife and Countryside Link conference on 6 December. Instead, he said, access was funded in the new Farming in Protected Landscapes scheme (FIPL). He also said, grudgingly, that the second tier, Local Nature Recovery (LNR), will have ‘some payments for things like educational access, possibly some other access as well’.

He has reneged on the many promises made by ministers over the last few years about access being a part of ELMS. The FIPL scheme, while welcome, is limited to national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty where there is generally more access in any case, and it only runs until 2024. And as things stand it looks unlikely that general access will even be included in LNR.

In an interview on Farming Today on 8 December, our general secretary Kate Ashbrook hit back at this ‘betrayal’ by the government, and pledged to step up the campaign to ensure that access is properly included in ELMS, for the benefit of everyone.

Says Kate: ‘Now we know why the government resisted amendments for access targets, in the Agriculture and Environment Bills, because the Secretary of State was determined not to impose any statutory requirement he had no intention of keeping. We must remedy this.

‘Meanwhile, we must press government to ensure that, when LNR is announced, it enables farmers to be paid to create paths where people want and need them, and to improve existing paths and access.’

Please write to your MP calling for public access to be included in ELMS. You may find the pages on the Ramblers’ website helpful.

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