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Pay farmers for maintaining and improving public footpaths, walkers urge

UK News | Published:

Agriculture Bill is a ‘vital opportunity to ensure people can continue to enjoy the countryside via our fantastic path network’, Ramblers say.

Hadrian’s Wall footpath open

Farmers should have to maintain public footpaths on their land as a condition of receiving taxpayer subsidies after Brexit, walking charity the Ramblers has urged.

Landowners should also be rewarded for adding new routes or improving existing paths, as part of a system of “public payments for public goods” under a new farming policy when the UK leaves the EU.

A poll for the charity reveals that 85% of adults believe that being able to experience the countryside is important for children’s understanding of the environment and food production.

Almost as many believed visits to the countryside were good for their mental well being (82%) and for their physical health and fitness (83%), the survey of 1,848 people in England and Wales by YouGov found.

While landowners currently have a legal duty to keep paths on their land clear, almost seven in 10 people (69%) said they had encountered problems such as overgrown, unclear or blocked routes on their walks through the countryside.

And the Ramblers warns that access to the countryside could be under threat unless the Government provides for the protection of paths in the upcoming Agriculture Bill.

The Bill will detail plans for farming, which is currently governed by the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), after Brexit.

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Ramblers director of advocacy and engagement Tompion Platt said: “From walking to wildlife photography, without well maintained paths millions of people would miss out on the outdoor activities they love.

“The Agriculture Bill is a vital opportunity to ensure people can continue to enjoy the countryside via our fantastic path network for generations to come.”

And he said: “We know farmers work hard to make sure their businesses succeed while delivering wider benefits for society and believe they should continue to receive public money.

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“But in return, farmers and other landowners should be expected to meet their existing duties to keep paths on their land clear.

“We should also remember that countryside visitors can be a boon to rural communities.

“The path network helps people learn more about the important work undertaken by farmers, benefits tourism and local businesses.”

Farmers should have to maintain public footpaths on their land as a condition of receiving taxpayer subsidies after Brexit, walkers urge (Oliver Hicks-Pattison/Ramblers/PA)
Farmers should have to maintain public footpaths on their land as a condition of receiving taxpayer subsidies after Brexit, walkers urge (Oliver Hicks-Pattison/Ramblers/PA)

The survey also found almost two-thirds (65%) of people agreed with the principle that farmers should receive less funding if they fail to maintain public footpaths on their land.

And 60% would support extra funding for landowners who added more paths.

A spokeswoman for the Environment Department (Defra) said: “Leaving the European Union gives us the opportunity to shape the future of our farming industry and protect the countryside that we all enjoy.

“Our recent consultation specifically identified access to the countryside as something that could be recognised and rewarded as a public good.

“We have also been clear that farmers and land managers have a vital role to play in educating the public and building deeper links to the countryside.

“We will bring forward our plans for legislation shortly.”

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