Nuffield Scholar suggests innovative approach to Gove’s pledge for public access

Increasing public access to the countryside was one of Michael Gove’s commitments in his New Year keynote speech, stating that support payments should move away from encouraging production inefficiencies and instead public money should be for public good.

Andrew Gillett, CLA legal adviser, recommends a new approach to public access to the countryside, but warns that changes should be voluntary and done in collaboration with farmers.

“As far as access is concerned throughout England and Wales we first need to change our attitude, inflexibility and legislative framework to public rights of way in order to create a workable system,” says Andrew.

Having recently completed a Nuffield Farming Scholarship, sponsored by the National Trust, Andrew’s report titled ‘A comparison of public access provisions and methods of mitigating impacts of public access on agriculture’ details the need for collaboration from Government, user groups and landowners.

“During my Nuffield Farming Scholarship, I travelled to Scotland, France, Ireland, the Netherlands and the USA to look at their approaches to public access.

“Following my visits, it struck me that our inflexible and expensive approach to public access is stifling our ability to offer permissive rights of way, which could enhance both landowners, and the general public’s, experience of the countryside.”

Using the Netherlands as a case study, Andrew details how their voluntary agreements to provide flexible access resulted in a successful collaborative approach.

“The Netherlands have a payment mechanism in place for providing public goods in the form of permissive rights of way,” explains Andrew.

“Under voluntary agreements landowners receive a payment per meter of access and local Government grants them an indemnity against any potential claims.”

He adds that these routes could be adapted with ease to suit the farm’s cropping or livestock commitments, a process that is nearly impossible under current English and Welsh laws.

“The process I witnessed in the Netherlands was inexpensive and amicable and if we could emulate the system in England and Wales including payments and an indemnity I strongly believe there is a case for innovation.”

Andrew acknowledges that the current public access system is unnecessarily complex and calls on the Government to look at other countries that have solved the problems presented by the current laws and liability challenges.


Andrew Gillett’s full Nuffield report is available here: