The Agriculture Bill will replace the rules set by the Common Agricultural Policy, a framework that will no longer apply to the UK outside of the EU. With agriculture making up 70 per cent of land use, the Bill will be central in determining how land is used, managed and enjoyed for years to come. The Covid-19 outbreak, and the necessary restrictions on movement and outdoor activity, have brought into sharp focus just how important it is for people to be able to connect with nature as part of their daily lives.
One major area of change proposed in the Bill concerns public funding provided to the farming sector. Instead of subsidies based upon the amount of land farmed, landowners and managers will in future be rewarded for the delivery of public goods – such as reduced flood risk, better air and water quality and public access – under a new system of farm payments.
The Ramblers recognises that agriculture is one of the most important activities taking place in the countryside, and that some public investment will be required to support the industry when the UK leaves the EU. This investment must however deliver benefits for wider society – so we wholeheartedly support the shift towards ‘public payments for public goods’. This must include improved maintenance of existing paths and enhancements to the network.
Improved maintenance of existing public rights of way
Farmers should be expected to keep clear existing public rights of way on their land on their land as a condition of receiving public funding. This is critical in making sure people can access the countryside with ease and confidence.
Enhancements to the path network
Farmers should receive financial assistance, under the new public payments for public goods system, where they create useful new paths or take steps to improve the accessibility of existing routes to enable more people to get outdoors.
These principles will help ensure that our precious path network is better maintained, with farmers encouraged to fulfil their legal responsibilities, and rightly rewarded for improvements in public access.
Before the Agriculture Bill was first published, we were strong advocates of the need to ensure that under a different system of farm payments, public access should be considered a public good for which farmers could financial assistance. In 2018 we ran a national campaign, Your Path Awaits, which saw thousands of our supporters writing to their MPs, explaining what paths mean to them and highlighting the need for more people to be able to engage with nature.
It is positive to see that the most recent version of the Bill, published in January 2020, retained public access as one of the public goods for which landowners and managers can receive financial assistance. However, the Bill needs to be strengthened to ensure that we make the most of this opportunity to improve people’s ability to get outdoors and connect with nature.
Information for MP and Peers
The Ramblers has developed briefings for MPs and Peers to inform debates as the Bill makes its way through Parliament.
Contact email@example.com for further information on the Agriculture Bill and its implications for public access to the countryside.