With the Government triggering Article 50 yesterday, the country has finally started the complicated process towards disentangling itself from the European Union. As the full extent of this task is worked out, there is a fair amount of uncertainty but also a unique opportunity to take a fresh look at how we want things to work in the future.
Public money is scarce, with years of cutbacks in public services behind us and the prospect of more to come, so now is the time to focus on using them to provide public goods – things that the market will not pay for but are valued and needed by the public.
Public access is an essential part of the package of public goods that should be delivered by Government payments to the agricultural sector, alongside improvements in biodiversity, protection for natural resources and caring for landscapes and heritage.
We are working to ensure that every path in England and Wales is well-maintained by 2020 as part of our Pathwatch campaign and Article 50 presents us with the potential to create an effective system of subsidies that would encourage and reward farmers and land managers for providing and maintaining paths, visitor facilities, learning resources, and training for volunteers.
Reconnecting people to the countryside is a vital step in helping everyone to be healthy and active and to understand the natural world – we now have an opportunity to look again at how we provide this.