Public access is a public good…isn’t it?

Today (2 Dec), the government has announced further details on what is to be included in its new farm payments schemes, as part of once in a generation reforms to the agricultural sector.

However, this latest announcement failed to live up to previous commitments that funding will be available to farmers for improved access to the countryside. We’re calling on the government to keep their promises that the new regime will help connect people to the nature.

Broken promises

In October 2021, we published our assessment of how well the government was doing in living up to its promises to connect more people to nature. The findings were far from positive, with a picture emerging of an administration quick to extol the virtues of access to the outdoors but far less proactive in actually improving access provision where it is most needed.

Today more evidence has emerged of the government failing to make the most of the opportunities in its grasp, this time in relation to details on its new system of funding from the public purse to support the farming community. First announced with much fanfare as part of new agricultural legislation, the regime – known as Environmental Land Management – is supposed to be underpinned by the concept of public payments for public goods.

In theory, this is a radical and welcome shift away from the system of subsidies towards a new approach that sees farmers and land managers provided with financial assistance for the actions they take to deliver benefits that are of value to wider society – cleaner water, healthier soils, nature-rich environments and improved public access to the countryside, to name but a few.

But time and time again, as more details are announced, access is falling through the cracks with no evidence that ministers intend to deliver on their promises that the new funding regime will help improve our connections to the natural world. This flies in the face of the knowledge that access to nature is good for us for a whole host of reasons – as highlighted during Covid-19 restrictions – but that for many in society it is far from guaranteed.

How Environmental Land Management can improve access to nature

The Ramblers, along with partners, has today published proposals on how Environmental Land Management could work for access. This includes funding for improved infrastructure so that more people can make use of the existing path network, coupled with funding for new paths that are of value to the public – for example, the creation of circular routes, paths that provide safer options to walking on busy country roads and those which enable the public to get to otherwise inaccessible cultural and natural heritage. In the process, more people will be able to get outdoors, connect with nature and better appreciate the work of farmers both as producers and stewards of the countryside we know and love.

With £2.4bn per year of public funds earmarked to support the agricultural sector in the years ahead, we believe it is only fair that a proportion of this goes towards improved public access as part of a new contract between taxpayers and the farming community. It is our hope that ministers and officials responsible for the ongoing development of Environmental Land Management will recognise the opportunities that lie ahead, and that future announcements will give us cause for celebration.

Take action

The Environmental Land Management scheme will be developed further over coming months, and we have the chance to ensure that this reshaping of our countryside includes people, that it enables us to connect with the natural world.

Write to your MP using our template letter, and ask them to push ministers to deliver on their promises that farm payments will be provided for better access to the countryside.