NFU Cymru has restated that any changes to access legislation in Wales should not place any additional cost, burden or liability on farmers, in response to the written statement by the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths AM, on Improving Opportunities to Access the Outdoors for Recreation.
NFU Cymru Rural Affairs Board Chair, Hedd Pugh said: “Welsh farmers are the key providers of a significant proportion of Wales’ access provision which includes 16,000 miles of footpaths, 3,000 miles of bridleways, 1,200 miles of cycle network, and 460,000 ha of open access land.
“We recognise that public access to the countryside is an important mechanism to improve public health and we acknowledge the role that outdoor recreation can play in helping to address low levels of physical activity in Wales. However, there is no evidence to show that this issue can be addressed by simply providing greater and greater amounts of public access. Indeed, the evidence shows that despite a threefold increase in land accessible by right since devolution, usage numbers have not changed. Reforms to access legislation should not seek to facilitate this.
“The written statement refers to achieving consistency in the opportunities available for participation in different activities. This is concerning as any broadening of the range of activity through higher access rights will inevitably mean increased risks and impacts, with the burden and liability falling on farmers. The extent to which higher access rights will impact on existing recreation businesses also needs to be understood.”
In conclusion, Hedd Pugh said: “The issue of access and recreation is a key concern for our members and this was reflected in the high levels of interest in the 2015 consultation. Any changes to access legislation will inevitably impact disproportionately on the farming community.
“NFU Cymru is clear that reforms to access legislation in Wales should focus on the modernisation of the public rights of way network. The current system does not take into account modern day farming and the procedures to record, create, divert or close public rights of way must be made far easier and less expensive.”