Decision on open access to Welsh countryside should not be rushed

With huge concerns from farmers and landowners in Wales around the proposed open access charter, the National Sheep Association (NSA) urges the Welsh Government not to rush a decision before all associated issues are fully considered.

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With huge concerns from farmers and landowners in Wales around the proposed open access charter, the National Sheep Association (NSA) urges the Welsh Government not to rush a decision before all associated issues are fully considered.

The Welsh Government is consulting on an open access charter, which it claims would improve access to the outdoors for recreational use. While NSA recognises the importance and significant benefits of everyone being able to enjoy the countryside, NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker believes there is already enough opportunity for the general public to do this.

He says: “Since 2005 there has been a threefold increase in land available for recreation, including open access and statutory and voluntary pathways. The problem is that much of this access is unused or poorly understood.

“Farmers have been encouraged to invest in providing access and countryside activities, as a means of diversification to protect against market volatility. To undermine this investment, when it is not being fully utilised, is unnecessary; better promotion of land that’s already open for access should be the priority.”

Fearing the Welsh Government may push legislation through ahead of the Welsh Assembly elections in May, NSA is concerned that all associated issues have not been given proper consideration.

Mr Stocker continues: “Open access to land presents many problems to existing and legitimate land management and farming activities. Sheep worrying by dogs, the spread of parasites via un-wormed dogs, gates being left open, erosion of sensitive habitats and disruption to nesting birds – these are all serious problems which will inevitably increase if open access to the Welsh countryside is granted.”

In addition, NSA is concerned about public liability given the danger livestock and machinery can present, and is also worried about the threat to farm security with rural crime and theft already being a significant problem.

Mr Stocker believes a holistic approach to the countryside is required, which includes accepting that farming is an essential part of the Welsh environment.

“At a national level it is essential we get the right balance of access, providing enough recreation space to promote physical and mental wellbeing, alongside maintaining the ability to efficiently produce food and manage the countryside.

“Farmers and landowners work hard to maintain the landscape which we love, so their opinions and rights must be respected. I urge the Welsh Government not to make any rushed decisions on this matter.”

2 Responses to Decision on open access to Welsh countryside should not be rushed

  1. Frank Cannon Jan 6, 2016 at 10:03

    If we provide open access for all to the Welsh countryside then it essentially become public area and must be ‘policed’ like any other public space. The authorities must therefore fund a proportionate custodian or warden service to ensure all users abide by the law and country code. It’s a fact of life that unscrupulous or ignorant people will abuse the proposed rights to pursue anti-social behaviors or criminal activities such as off-road motorcycling or four wheel driving. Irresponsible dog owners will fail to control their animals (and I don’t subscribe to enforcing dogs on leads at all times as then must be allowed to exercise rigorously if the breed dictates) and conflict between the public and farmers will be inevitable. Landscape engineering and user education must be part of the consideration.

    • Administrator Jan 6, 2016 at 10:16

      You may be right Frank – there must be some kind of protection in place so that any proposed rights are not abused. Anyone else with something to say on the matter?

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