With the Easter break in full swing, the CLA has conducted a number of media interviews extending a warm welcome to people escaping lockdown restrictions by enjoying walks in the countryside. We have used the opportunity to remind people of the importance of sticking to public rights of way, not walking over crops or disturbing wildlife habitats and emphasised why it is so important to keeps dogs under close control.
England and Wales have 144,000 miles of public rights of way, as well as 1.3m hectares of land subject to open access. It is one of the finest public access networks in Europe. Many of us work hard to make sure this network is effective and it is important that landowners understand their responsibilities of keeping public rights of way on their land clear of obstructions and maintaining stiles and gates.
We encourage visitors to follow the Countryside Code, which applies to all parts of the countryside in England and Wales, because it is there to help everyone respect, protect and enjoy the outdoors and natural environment.
Last year, the CLA wrote to the Secretary of State for Education, Gavin Williamson, calling for the Countryside Code to be taught in schools. The letter came after worrying reports of fly-tipping, littering, trespassing, country lanes being blocked, gates being left open, dogs chasing livestock and a lack of social distancing.
A new, refreshed Countryside Code has been launched by Natural England, coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the creation of the founding booklet. With more people enjoying the outdoors than ever before, in part due to the pandemic, the code has been revised to help people enjoy countryside in a safe and respectful way.
Farmers and landowners welcome responsible visitors but it is vital that those out for walks and other exercise have a full understanding of the environment. For example, heavy plant machinery is often on the move, there can be risks around livestock and there are many areas where wildlife habitats need protection and should be left undisturbed.
The increase in visitors to the countryside is however an opportunity for the public to experience the fantastic work of farmers and landowners. From the vital role of putting high quality food on tables around the country, the animal husbandry and crop production that takes place on our farmland, to managing our woodlands, planting or improving hedges and sowing seed for wild bird areas.
There are some that believe that agriculture is the enemy of environmentalism, but the opposite is true. Sustainable agriculture and the recovery in biodiversity can and must coexist, and that is the focus of the government’s Environmental Land Management (ELM) scheme that is under development.
With the UK hosting the UN Climate Change Conference COP26 at the end of year, there will be increasing focus on nature-based solutions to climate change and the positive role landowners can all play.
In other news, the government recently announced the first stages of its plans to get ultra-fast broadband to the majority of homes in the UK with part of the East set to be among the early beneficiaries. It had originally promised to roll out gigabit-speed broadband to every home in Britain by 2025, but that was reduced to 85% coverage in November.
Too many rural businesses are currently put at a disadvantage by poor connectivity. The rural economy is 16% less productive than the national average, largely due to poor infrastructure. Closing this gap would grow the economy by at least £43bn. So this is a good start, but if government is serious about levelling up then its foot needs to stay on the accelerator until the job is complete.