Public Rights Of Way And Access: Environmental Land Management

Publication Date11 March 2021
SubjectEnvironment, Environmental Law, Clean Air / Pollution
Law FirmBirketts
AuthorMs Marcia Grice

Public rights of way and public access have become a widely discussed subject particularly in the last year with increasing and new use. The Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme is a new government agricultural payment scheme, to replace the EU scheme but with more focus on the environment.

Under the scheme farmers and land managers may be paid 'public money for public goods' which would mean delivering benefits such as clean air, thriving plant life and environmental protection. ELM is based on 3 Tiers and is planned to be rolled-out in 2024. There are calls from some quarters for public rights of way and public access to have a higher profile in this scheme.

Defra's ELM Policy discussion document

An analysis of responses to Defra's ELM Policy discussion document (PDD) was published recently.

Stakeholders were invited to participate when the PDD was initially launched in February 2020. Due to COVID-19 the PDD was temporarily suspended in April 2020 but was reopened in June 2020. Stakeholders include farmers, land managers, environmental groups, individuals, lobby and specialist groups (e.g. user groups such as the Ramblers, Open Spaces and Horse Access Campaign). Views were therefore obtained from groups with widely diverging views in relation to rights of way

What is the analysis of responses to the ELM PDD telling us about public rights of way and increasing public access?

Rights of way was one of two areas most frequently cited which respondents would like to see included in the list of public goods covered by ELM.

Rights of way was also one of the few topic areas which specifically referred to COVID 19, with the pandemic having highlighted tensions that exist. The resulting increased access was said to demonstrate the 'negative impact of public access' but also highlights the importance of the availability of public access, open space and rights of way for wellbeing. This illustrates how increased public access divides opinion between landowners, land managers, farmers and user groups

Many landowners and farmers have experienced increased trespassing and unacceptable behaviour such as littering, fly tipping, vandalism, gates being left open, dog fouling, sheep worrying, cattle ignorance and wild picnics. Whilst others, where lockdown led to reduced access, observed an increase in wildlife...

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