Agriculture Bill

Written Evidence submitted by The Byways and Bridleways Trust (BBT) (AB33)

Evidence for the House of Commons Public Bill Scrutiny Committee re The Agriculture Bill 2020

1. The BBT is concerned with the preservation and extension of byways and bridleways. And believes that those that use these ways, need access to a comprehensive off road network similar to that enjoyed by walkers. We therefore extoll the principle that public money given to land managers to enhance the natural environment is a public good, and should be accompanied by public money being used to fund access for all non motorised users to access and enjoy the results of those environmental enhancements.

2. BBT is a founding member of the Horse Access Campaign (HAC) and fully endorses their submission. I will not be repetitive of their points, but firstly, I must stress the incredible injustice that recent legislation to improve walkers rights, has meted out to equestrians:

· CROW Act 2000, Moorland: Riders historically had customary rights across heaths and moorland which were removed by statute since the definition of ‘Open Access Land’ for walkers has a restriction on horses.

· CROW Act 2000, Cut-off date: the maxim "once a highway, always a highway" will be removed in 2026. Returning historical routes is the only reliable method the equestrian public have of increasing off road access. Many have interesting environmental features which will be lost to the public.

· Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006: the freehold forestry commission estate was dedicated to walkers as "Open Access Land". Much of the upland estate had formerly been moorland, hence denying historical equestrian access again.

· Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009: this designated all beaches as ‘Open Access Land’, removing customary equestrian access, and the national coastal trail is only for walkers.

3. The Agriculture Bill gives the government an excellent opportunity to redress these injustices and to show that it does indeed aim for an all inclusive society. Proper funding of statutory public access not just for walkers but for all higher rights users (equestrians and cyclists) will not only save lives, give health benefits but enhance the economy as well. Publicly funded environmental schemes should therefore have publicly funded higher rights access to them.

4. Public Statutory Access as a Public Good: increased public access has always been met by horror on the part of land owners, (we happen to be farmers with every conceivable type of right of way across our land) but which in fact after it has all settled down has never delivered their worst fears. It is a subject accompanied by much antagonism, but again this will continue until there is a comprehensive network of public rights of way for all to enjoy.

5. To that end I would like to suggest that if public money is used for public access there should be an aim for every community to have a choice of at least 6 Community Circuits which link with all surrounding communities.

6. The above points need to be covered by a change to the Agriculture Bill 2020 at 1(1)(b) where the words ‘statutory’ needs inserting before the words public access. And a proper explanation given in 1(1)(5) including the desire for Community Circuits as a public good.

February 2020

 

Prepared 25th February 2020