A report from the House of Lords Select Committee has recognised the need to include public access as part of the reform of agricultural payments, to support our network of National Trails for the long-term and to promote responsible access to the countryside.
Last year the Ramblers gave evidence to an inquiry in the House of Lords which considered whether the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act (2006) is still fit for purpose. This Act led to the creation of Natural England, which is responsible for managing the natural environment and public access.
At the inquiry, we highlighted the need to maintain the path network and are encouraged to see that the new report recommends that maintenance and enhancement of public access should form part of the new system of agricultural payments.
We're asking people to show their support for countryside access by signing our petition, which we will submit to government in response to its consultation on proposals for the future of food, farming and the environment. This will shape the upcoming agriculture bill and have a significant impact on the future of access to the countryside. We want to ensure the bill includes measures which protect and enhance access to the countryside.
Our evidence also raised concerns over the long-term future of National Trails, the jewels in the crown of our path network. We are pleased to see that the report recommends that “Natural England and Defra work with the Ramblers… [and other groups] to develop proposals for long-term management and maintenance funding”. We look forward to working together to find a sustainable funding model.
We also support the Committee’s emphasis on promoting responsible access to the countryside. This used to be well resourced, but has since dwindled. We’re still working to promote this message and are pleased the Committee “believe that Natural England should have sufficient resources to deliver against all elements of its general purpose. It must also have the capacity to undertake effective promotional work and awareness-raising activity”.
Our Policy and Advocacy Officer, Stephen Russell, said: “We welcome the recognition of the importance of access to the countryside and the need for a long-term plan for the maintenance of our fantastic path network. Improving access to the countryside for the UK’s 9 million walkers is essential in enabling people to discover and enjoy the environment and improve their health and wellbeing, as well as encouraging spending in rural economies.”
To help ensure the agriculture bill includes measures which protect and enhance access to the countryside, sign our petition today.