Barbara is supporting the Ramblers campaign against recent proposals to allow farmers to divert public rights of way where livestock are present.

The Ramblers and other organisations have raised concerns that the plans risk preventing and discouraging the use of the path network at a time when improving access to the outdoors and nature has never been more important. Instead, the Ramblers say that there should be a greater focus on steps that can be taken now to improve public safety around cattle – and that this does not require new legislation.

The proposals from the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association permit farmers to divert any public right of way where livestock – including goats, pigs and alpaca, not just cattle – are present. Farmers would be able to decide when, whether and where to divert public rights of way without oversight. They would be able to divert paths for 40 days out of every 90, which accounts for nearly half a year.

Barbara is concerned that these proposals might:

  • Impact on people’s ability to get outdoors and enjoy the countryside.
  • Impact accessibility, which is a particular concern for those with limited mobility, as there are no assurances that accessibility would be maintained.
  • Not guarantee that Health and Safety measures already available to farmers to reduce the risk to public safety will have been taken where cattle are grazed in fields where there are rights of access.
  • Diminish the quality and use of the wider path network, make it difficult to plan routes and render meaningless any published maps and promoted routes.

The Ramblers is calling for greater focus on the steps that can be taken now – this does not require new legislation. They are calling for:

  • greater uptake of the range of sensible measures advised by the Health and Safety Executive and already available to farmers so that risks to the public are minimised.
  • more comprehensive and transparent reporting where incidents do occur to assess the extent to which these measures are being used by farmers and their effectiveness.
  • a more proactive approach from the HSE, as the government body responsible for enforcing health and safety in agriculture, to work positively with the farming community to protect the public.
  • more extensive and useful information, through a refreshed and better promoted Countryside Code, on public safety and confidence around cattle.

The proposals by the National Farmers Union and the Country Land and Business Association have been submitted to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which is responsible for public access, for consideration.

Barbara has now written to George Eustice MP, Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, to raise these issues.

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