By Sophie Gordon
Tuesday, 29 January 2019
We all know the value of having the freedom to get out and explore the countryside, but wouldn’t it be better if it was easier to do so by bike asks Cycling UK’s Campaigns Officer, Sophie Gordon.
90% of people who responded to our Rides of Way survey said that being able to ride off-road is important to their mental wellbeing as well as their physical health.
I love grabbing a map and linking up unfamiliar paths, tracing lines with my fingers to find a new route to discover. If I’m going walking or running, this is fairly straightforward – but if I get on my bike, my choice becomes a lot more limited.
Currently, only 20% of rights of way in England and Wales are open to cyclists and horse riders, and these are often frustratingly fragmented.
However, I’m hopeful that we could have more routes to choose from in the future. Whatever your feelings are about Brexit, having to rewrite our rules as we leave the EU could provide an opportunity to get the importance of off-road access down on paper.
Currently, under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) farmers receive agricultural subsidies from an EU fund, which the UK contributes to. How much they receive depends on various factors, such as the area of their land, use of sustainable farming methods and provision of employment.
After Brexit, these subsidies will come directly from Whitehall rather than via Brussels. This provides an opportunity we can seize to write maintaining and increasing public access as one of the criteria for payments.
The first draft of the new Agriculture Bill was published in September 2018, and we were pleased to see that as a result of lobbying by groups including Cycling UK, British Horse Society (BHS), Ramblers and the Open Spaces Society, financial support for landowners providing ‘public goods’ was included.
This was a positive step following our ‘Get on my land!’ campaign, but Cycling UK believes the Bill can still go further by spelling out public access as a public good.
Enhancing the network
74% of our Rides of Way survey respondents said they consider the current rights of way system to be unsuitable, and almost half said they find it difficult to piece together a permitted route on bridleways.
In our Beyond the Green Belt vision, we invited people to imagine what it would be like if cyclists:
could ride on some of the 80% of the network they can’t use now in England & Wales;
were able to access more of the National Trails;
could enjoy recreational rides which linked cycle-friendly quiet roads to rights of way; and
were welcomed to National Parks which appreciated the benefits of promoting cycling.
That’s why we’re joining the Ramblers and thousands of others across the country in calling for an ambitious Agriculture Bill that makes it easier for people to connect with nature and the countryside.
We want to see a bill that drives improvements to our existing rights of way, and promotes the creation of safer, more accessible routes that join up communities and connect people to the outdoors.
What you can do
Over the coming weeks, MPs will debate the latest draft of the Bill. Along with the Ramblers, we are supporting two important amendments to the bill made by Caroline Lucas MP and Angela Smith MP.
These amendments would mean farmers and land owners:
Are rewarded when they enhance the rights of way network;
Only receive public money if they fulfil their existing legal duties to keep public rights of way clear.
At Cycling UK, we would urge you to write to your MP today and ask them to support a more ambitious Agriculture Bill that not only protects, but enhances, our access to the countryside.
You’ll have a chance to edit the Ramblers’ suggested email, and mention why off-road cycling is important to you and your local community.
ADD YOUR VOICE TO THE RAMBLERS’ CAMPAIGN
Campaigner and activist Off-road and Mountain Biking Family Off-road Access Off-road survey Get on my land! agriculture bill Beyond the Green Belt Trails for Wales Local Cycle Campaigning Inclusive Cycling Network Cycling UK in England Cycling UK in Wales