Scottish agriculture and access

We see public access as a public good, delivering many outcomes to society related to health, wellbeing, a strong rural economy, connectivity, social cohesion, education and connecting people with the environment.

Most people in Scotland live in lowland areas close to farmland, and this where we often go walking. Paths are important ways of helping us walk responsibly through farmland and they also help farmers manage their land, as they’re more aware of where people are likely to be and can plan their operations accordingly.

Yet we also recognise that for most land managers there is little individual incentive to invest in paths. The wider public benefits of those path networks will generally accrue to society as a whole, or other businesses in the local community, or even to the individual enjoying the access through their improved health and wellbeing, rather than the landowner. Some land managers do, of course, also have ways of benefitting from visitors, such as by owning a farm shop/café linked to a path network, or a tourism business. But paths and other related infrastructure are expensive to maintain and install, so most land managers need to look for external funding. 

Brexit and agriculture

While we await clarity on how post-Brexit agricultural arrangements will affect Scotland, we are working with other environmental organisations through Scottish Environment LINK to consider how future Scottish agricultural funding programmes could better reflect the principle of public funding supporting public goods.

The Scottish government has recently consulted on proposals for a five-year transition period for farming and rural support.

Historically the Scottish government has recognised the importance of investing in access through agricultural funding, thanks to sustained lobbying from ourselves and other organisations. This was delivered through the Improving Public Access scheme, which covered funding for path resurfacing works, benches, signs, leaflets, and so on. 

For information on responsible access on farmland, see the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Updated in January 2020