Following an earlier Blog post about the loss of access within new HLS agreements we are pleased to report some interesting developments. This press release has been sent out by the local NFU.
|David Nunn, Jeremy Squirrell, David Ruffley MP, David Barker, Dr Dan Poulter MP, John Cousins & James Black.|
On Tuesday March 15th a delegation of five
farmers led by David Barker, all of whom are Countryside Stewardship agreement holders with Natural England, met DEFRA Minister Richard Benyon MP. The farmers were joined by Dr Daniel Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, whose question prompted the meeting, and Mr David Ruffley MP for Bury St Edmunds. Suffolk
The main purpose of the delegation was to discuss the removal of Permissive and Educational Access from Higher Level Stewardship Schemes (HLS)
The group was delighted to learn from the Minister that his Department had re-appraised Educational Access and funding of visits by school children will now be reinstated under HLS.
During the meeting each agreement holder spoke about their own circumstances and the following points were made.
1) Permissive and Educational Access are a superb way for the general public to access the countryside and engage with the rural environment and farmers. As such they offer the farming community a real opportunity to deliver benefits to the community at large. The group believed that the announcement by the government to cease funding this type of “public good” was a retrograde step.
2) Farmers whose current agreements are due to end over the next few years face very real difficulties if they wish to continue with permissive access. Currently Entry Level Stewardship (ELS) rules do not allow access on margins and only allow cutting once every two years, whereas tracks for permissive access often receive up to three cuts per annum.
3) The delegation accepted that in these difficult times farming needed to make a contribution to the Big Society and suggested that if there were treasury constraints access payments could be halved from the present 90p/meter/annum for higher rights and 45p/meter/annum for footpaths.
4) The delegation emphasised the benefits these routes provide toward the health agenda by improving opportunities for people to exercise in the countryside.
5) There are tangible safety benefits delivered by increasing the opportunities for horse riders to exercise off busy roads and permissive routes improve Road Safety.
6) Where the current Permissive routes exist it is a result of careful consideration and they have often been provided to create important links to enhance the Rights of Way network.
7) Under a reformed `Greener CAP` the EU should recognise the wider needs of the general public and not focus simply on the environmental agenda. The group urged the Minister to press for payments for access to be match funded by the EU, in the same way that other wildlife benefits are.
Richard Benyon had a lot of sympathy for the points made but said the decision to remove support of these types access had been made due to the cost at a time when DEFRA needed to make significant savings. He reiterated that funding for bio-diversity was match funded by money from
Europe whereas the funds for access all came from the UK Treasury.
He gave an undertaking to look at the points the delegation had raised, and was particularly concerned by the conflict between ELS margins and any continued voluntary access.
David Barker agreed with Dr Daniel Poulter that the next step would be for us to arrange a meeting with Geoffrey Van-Orden MEP to see if he can make representation in the European parliament.