New legislation may pay farmers to provide off-road riding *H&H Plus*

  • Organisations have welcomed the proposals contained in the Agriculture Bill, while acknowledging that its real benefits will depend on details that are yet to be agreed...

    New legislation granting payments to farmers for public access to their land is a “positive step”, but there is still work to be done in order for this to benefit riders.

    The Agriculture Bill, which will have its second reading at the House of Commons on 3 February, sets out provisions to provide money for “public goods”, including financial assistance to farmers and landowners to support access to and enjoyment of the countryside.


    British Horse Society (BHS) director of access Mark Weston told H&H the society welcomes the bill.

    “In 2018 the BHS lobbied with other groups for the bill to recognise the provision of access as a public good. As part of this we asked members to contact their MPs to support the call for landowners to be paid to widen the rights of way network available to riders, and to help maintain the network as part of any future subsidy scheme under the bill,” he said.

    “In England and Wales riders have access to only 22% of the public rights of way network, and carriage drivers 5%. We welcome any incentive designed to enhance and extend the rights of way network and remain committed to safeguarding these public assets to ensure equestrians, cyclists and walkers can use safe off-road routes in the future.”

    Rural chartered surveyor Paul Madeley told H&H the bill is a positive step, but added it is “vague” and needs more detail.

    “The bill is broad and in terms of access doesn’t mention bridleways or horses, but we’ll watch this space and see how it emerges,” he said. “However, there is scope that could help equestrianism in terms of farming businesses looking at other income streams and diversification such as livery.

    “The government said they want public money for public goods; this means it will have to be considered if access to a bridleway is a public good — I would say it is. What I’m picking out from the bill is improvements to access — not new access. People have read into it that it will include improvements to access structures like gates and stiles and I think these could be worked in, but it’s for organisations to lobby as the scheme is drafted.”

    Countryside Alliance head of policy Sarah Lee told H&H the organisation supports the bill’s proposals.

    “If we want people to love and understand the countryside then we believe it is important to open the countryside as a public good, which includes paying land managers to provide off-road riding,” she said.

    “We will examine the bill in detail and look forward to continuing to work closely with parliamentarians as the bill progresses.”

    A spokesman for Defra told H&H access had been identified as a key public good in the environmental land management system and the specifics of the policy are being worked through — but options to improve access are being considered.

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