Sustainable Farming Incentives fail to live up to Government promises on access

People in field

A walk in nature is a universal pleasure that should be available to everyone, everywhere. But it’s not, and it’s therefore disappointing that the latest Government plans for Environment Land Management (the replacement to farm subsidies) have failed to live up to previous promises made by Ministers that could have led to significant improvements in existing rights of way.

In 2018, we launched the Your Path Awaits campaign which saw 15,000 of our supporters demand improvements to access to the countryside via our fantastic path network for generations to come. This came ahead of the publication of the Government’s Agriculture Bill which established a new regime of financial support for farmers – known as Environmental Land Management (ELM).

Over the past year Covid-19 restrictions have emphasised the importance of being able to access the outdoors and connect with nature. However, they’ve also highlighted the unequal way in which different people can access the countryside. Improving public access to the countryside has become even more urgent than ever.

On the back of our ‘Your Path Awaits’ campaign, the Government have committed to funding for improving access to the countryside. The Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan also talks about ensuring that everyone can access green and natural spaces - however a key way of achieving this wasn’t included in last week’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announcement on the framework for the first phase of ELM reform to farm payments, the Sustainable Farming Incentives (SFI).

Stephen Russell, Policy and Advocacy Officer for the Ramblers said: “We recognise the important role farmers have to play in protecting the environment, but the failure to also offer them the opportunity to receive payment for improving public access in the Sustainable Farming Incentive (SFI) shows a complete lack of ambition and urgency from the Government to back up their promises to connect more people to nature.

“The Sustainable Farming Incentive component of ELM should have seen provisions farmers to receive payments for improvements to existing rights of way. These could have included improvements to surfaces, better signage and replacing stiles with accessible gates - the latter being important as Natural England estimates that 20% of people can’t access existing paths because of disabilities. 

“While this would be entirely optional for farmers it would enable them to receive extra financial support while also making the countryside more accessible to more people. It’s vital that Ministers look again at these plans and stick to the promises they made earlier in the year”.

It is expected the Government will make further announcements on the Sustainable Farming Incentives in coming months, but in the meantime supporters can click here to find out more about the future of public access.