Subsidies should be dependent on keeping paths in good order, the Ramblers said. Photo: Julian Jones

Subsidies should be dependent on keeping paths in good order, the Ramblers said. Photo: Julian Jones

Farmers should only receive post-Brexit subsidies if they fulfil their responsibilities for maintaining footpaths across their land, the Ramblers said.

The UK will need a new scheme to support farming outside of the existing common agricultural policy, and the walkers’ charity said the upcoming Agriculture Bill should ensure access to rights of way and the countryside are protected.

In a survey, the Ramblers said more than two-thirds of people said they had experienced poorly maintained footpaths.

The campaigning charity is calling for the principle of public payment for public goods to be at the heart of the Agriculture Bill, with farmers rewarded where they add new routes or improve existing paths. The bill also needs to include provisions to ensure that farmers keep existing paths clear as a condition of any payments they receive from the public purse, it said.

Eight out of 10 adults said that visiting the countryside is good for their physical fitness and mental wellbeing.

Tompion Platt, Ramblers director of advocacy and engagement, said: “Our path network is an amazing resource that gives us the freedom to get out and enjoy our beautiful countryside and the health and wellbeing benefits it brings, as well as enabling children to learn to love and care about the natural environment from an early age.

“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.”

Television presenter Julia Bradbury, who is a past president of the Ramblers and current president of the Camping and Caravanning Club, added: “Walking is Britain’s favourite form of exercise and taking a hike on your own, with the family or just with the dog is a perfect way to get out and have time to relax.

“It’s great for our physical and mental health and the path network throughout the length and breadth of the UK is so important as it enables everyone free access to the countryside.

Julia Bradbury: path network is important

Julia Bradbury: path network is important

“Our paths can’t look after themselves so they need to be maintained and protected to allow us all to be able to embrace the great outdoors for generations to come.”

Agriculture accounts for 70 per cent of land use in the UK, including a large proportion of the nation’s paths. Despite landowners having legal duties to keep paths on their land clear, the Ramblers’ survey highlighted existing problems with path maintenance, showing that more 69 per cent of people had experienced difficulties with footpaths in the countryside, including overgrown paths and blocked gates.

Mr Platt 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.

“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.”

Matthew Naylor, who owns a farm in Spalding, Lincolnshire, is among those farmers who share the view that countryside visitors are a boon to rural communities.

He said: “As a farmer, I like initiatives that develop bonds between consumers and their food and urban dwellers and the countryside.

“The footpath network in the UK is an undervalued national resource which provides soul-restoring recreation for visitors and brings energy and income to keep rural communities alive. Our footpaths are the arterial network of the countryside and we should encourage the lifeblood to flow vigorously through them.”

Nearly two thirds of adults surveyed support the idea that farmers should receive less funding if they fail to maintain public footpaths on their land and 60 per cent of adults would support farmers in England and Wales receiving extra government funding for adding more public paths.

Some articles the site thinks might be related:

  1. Government farming reforms mean ‘uncertain time’ for walkers
  2. Ramblers call for rethink on rail link that will affect 150 paths
  3. English footpaths face dead-end future, warn Ramblers
  4. Walkers’ view on coastal path ignored, say Ramblers
  5. Ramblers staff face the boot as cash crisis hits charity