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.