Today we welcomed the recognition by Environment Secretary - Michael Gove - of the need to invest in public access for the public good post-Brexit, as part of the reform of agricultural payments.
Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Gove said: "Vital as investment in our environment is, it is not the only public good I think we should invest in - I believe we should also invest in technology and skills alongside infrastructure, public access and rural resilience."
He continued: "Public access I know can be contentious and I won’t get into the weeds of the debate on rights of way now. But the more the public, and especially school children, get to visit, understand and appreciate our countryside the more I believe they will appreciate, support and champion our farmers. Open Farm Sunday and other great initiatives like it help reconnect urban dwellers with the earth. And they also help secure consent for investment in the countryside as well as support for British produce. So public access is a public good."
We hope that the Government ensures that new legislation also enforces current landowner responsibilities to maintain access to existing footpaths. Landowners who are recipients of public money must demonstrate their compliance with their existing legal obligations relating to path maintenance, to be eligible for payments from the public purse.
Our chief executive, Vanessa Griffiths, said: “We recognise the hard work our farmers do to balance business needs with benefits for the public and the environment and we believe that they should continue to receive support from public money. However in return, there should also be benefits for the public in the form of well-maintained paths over farmland.
“We already have a wonderful resource in our existing path network across the country, much of which crosses agricultural land. By fulfilling their path maintenance responsibilities, farmers will give people the opportunity to easily walk on their land and truly understand the work they are doing, helping to secure public consent for investment in the countryside.”
With over a billion visits to the countryside every year - with walking the most popular activity - the path infrastructure is essential in enabling people to discover and enjoy the environment, connect with nature and improve their health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging spending to support rural economies.
Vanessa added: “It’s a priority that the Agriculture Bill provides for an effective system of enforcing landowner compliance with their existing path maintenance duties, to enable millions of walkers to continue to access and enjoy the countryside every year.”