To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what plans he has to increase public access to the countryside.
Under section 17 of the Agriculture Act 1986, my right hon. Friend the Minister has to balance the interests of promoting an efficient agricultural industry, the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty and amenity of the countryside and its enjoyment by the public. It is generally recognised that there is a delicate balance between the increasing demand for public access and its impact upon the countryside and farming. The Department's policies are designed to encourage farmers, wherever practicable, to provide for countryside recreation. To this end, grants are available under the farm diversification grant scheme for farm walks and nature trails. The Department has also, jointly with the Countryside Commission, published a ploughing code which reminds farmers of their responsibilities in relation to rights of way. This will shortly be revised to take account of the new provisions of the Rights of Way Act 1990 which comes into operation on 13 August.
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will modify the set-aside scheme to require public access to be given on a proportion of the land.
The non-agricultural use option under the set-aside scheme already enables participants to use the land for activities allowing public access such as tourist facilities, caravan and camping sites and sports and recreational pursuits. In addition, the countryside premium scheme for set-aside land, currently operating in seven eastern counties of England, offers payments to farmers who agree to manage their set-aside land in ways which benefit wildlife, the landscape and informal recreation. The most popular choice is the meadowland option, which is designed to provide areas for quiet enjoyment by local communities.