Agriculture Bill

Written evidence submitted by Mrs Rachel Thompson MBE (AB33)

Dear Committee members

Re: House of Commons Public Bill Committee call for evidence on the Agriculture Bill 2017-19 (HC Bill 266) - published on 12 September 2018

I am writing to support the payment for public good within the Agriculture Bill - specifically the inclusion of countryside access.

My experience and evidence is:-

I am 61 years old and live in the Mendip Hills AONB. I regularly walk, run, cycle and horse ride on the rights of way and minor road network in the parish of Priddy. I often accompany children, young people and friends who may be on a combination of foot, bikes or ponies with the odd dog or two. I also have friends (particularly more elderly – one gentleman who is in his late 80’s and a disabled lady) who carriage drive.

Given the combination of countryside sporting and leisure interests, our activities are generally confined to the bridleways, byways and lanes as we are not allowed to use the footpaths. The byways and bridleways are very well used by all ages on foot since many of the stiles are the ladder variety which do a great job of keeping the less able out.

Twenty years ago there were only two shared routes – both Roads Used as Public Paths (now Restricted Byways). Over the years we have reclaimed a further two historic routes (upgraded from footpath to byway), worked with landowners to dedicate a number of footpaths to bridleway, persuaded our local squire to allow horses and bikes to share his open access land (normally foot only) and to allow us in to local forestry run by Forest Enterprise who were most determined to keep us out.

The physical characteristics of the footpaths that were upgraded were no different to other bridleways and byways in the area i.e. crossing grassland or running along forest or farm tracks. The use of a network of physical routes based on rights is a seriously out dated concept.

We are also fortunate to have some single track lanes (which are also sections of the National Cycle Route) which link to nearby communities.

The multi user network of lanes, byways and bridleways is in constant use by over 100 horses in the parish and many walkers and mountain cyclists keen to access the three / four local pubs as well as walking, cycling and pony riding to school and the farm shop.

Despite the threat of the dire consequences (cows rampaging through the village, mud up to the knees, motor bikes, squabbling users) that would arise through the upgrading of some footpaths to bridleway (which they probably were historically), the opposite has happened. We can travel reasonably safely around the village, people are more active and there is a greater sense of community. The roads are now busier and this is of concern particularly for the horses owners.

Please can I urge the Committee to support the inclusion of subsidy payments for permanent countryside access within the provisions of the Agriculture Bill. Sharing routes and creating new linking routes where needed and to help users cross dangerous roads, has to be the way forward.

Yours sincerely

Rachel Thompson MBE

October 2018


Prepared 30th October 2018