With farming the primary land use in the UK, the forthcoming agriculture bill will set the agenda for the future of our countryside. It will have far-reaching consequences for both the quality of our environment and all those who seek to enjoy it.
We believe that responsible access to the countryside is inherently beneficial to society and that opportunities to improve and enhance access should be integral to the agriculture bill. The benefits of countryside access, not only to physical health but also to mental health and wellbeing, are well proven. Additionally, with an increasingly urban society, an improved and enhanced rights of way system that encourages walking, cycling, horse riding, carriage driving and disability access can provide vitally important opportunities better to connect the public with the natural environment and understand the critical work undertaken by farmers.
The agriculture bill should include measures to ensure farmers fulfil their existing legal responsibilities for path maintenance and to reward them through public payments for increased and improved public access. It is important that public money supports farmers, as custodians of the countryside, in delivering this critical public good and helps ensure the countryside is an even more welcoming place for people to visit and enjoy.