Lord Greaves Speech on New Rules for Outdoor Recreation
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Speech by Lord Tony Greaves in a debate on Agriculture, Fishing and the Rural Environment on 2nd November 2017 – taking the opportunity to promote the cause of rural recreation, particularly walking in the countryside – and the contribution this makes to the rural economy.
I will speak briefly about the rural economy, particularly the contribution of outdoor recreation, which is an important part of it. Various noble Lords hinted at what is too often an apparent conflict between landowners and farmers, and people using the countryside for recreation, education and so on. An important part of any new system that will come in is to work actively and deliberately towards reconciliation and people working together, because the countryside belongs to everyone in the country, not just the people who own and farm it. Both sides need to understand that. It is a national resource, but at the same time it is there to allow farmers to undertake their livelihood and produce food for us. The noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, said in his very sensible speech that any policy must include agriculture, the environment and local communities, but it has to be done in a way that brings together the outsiders who use the countryside and the people who live there. This is important because of the contribution to local economies made by visitors, particularly people engaging in outdoor education.
Walkers are Welcome is an organisation that is now 10 years old. It was formed in Hebden Bridge, where a lot of good things used to happen. It has just produced a 10-year national survey of all the work it does to promote local walking in conjunction with local businesses. A very interesting report this year from Manchester Metropolitan University on behalf of the Sport and Recreation Alliance called Reconomics Plus sets out a large number of the benefits of people visiting the countryside. What the noble Earl just said about the need to educate the overwhelming number of people and children growing up in urban areas is vital. We all know the stories about people who, when asked where milk comes from, say it is from the supermarket.
One of the important things groups such as Walkers are Welcome are doing is spreading the load, because no doubt there are problems in some places that are honeypots, where the number of visitors is great. As the noble Lord, Lord Plumb, will remember when we did the marine Bill, I am a great supporter of coastal access and the coastal path. I went to Dorset last year to Lulworth Cove and saw the wonderful, newly built coastal path there. The queue of people walking up it was like an old-fashioned queue outside a cinema or a football ground. It was quite extraordinary. I thought, “Is this really what we want?”. Of course it is not. We want to spread the load and spread the visitors around.
A very interesting submission has just been made by an alliance of the British Horse Society, the Byways and Bridleways Trust, the Open Spaces Society—I declare an interest as a vice-president—and the Ramblers on how public access can be improved post Brexit. If and when Brexit occurs—even if it does not—this is vital work. These proposals suggest that an opportunity is here for,
“model funding schemes for agriculture to ensure that public money achieves maximum public benefit and promotes public wellbeing”.
It is talking about people walking on footpaths and on access land. It says:
“Public benefit should include public access, whether by paths or open access to land (freedom to roam), because such assets support local economies, and improve people’s health, wellbeing and safety”.
They are also one of the very important ways in which diversification of local businesses and farming businesses can be brought about. There needs to be a great deal more work to bring people together, rather than trying to keep them apart.