To ask Her Majesty's Government what estimate they have they have made of the number of permissive access footpaths that have been closed to the public since permissive access payments provided through legacy environmental stewardship schemes ceased following the introduction of the Countryside Stewardship scheme.
10 March 2021
Financial support for the permissive access options within agri-environment schemes was withdrawn by Defra Ministers as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review in 2010. Existing agreements under the original Countryside Stewardship Scheme (CSS) and Higher Level Stewardship Scheme (HLS) were allowed to run their course to expiry, with final agreements ending by 2021.
Since 2010, agreements providing about 31,000 kilometres of CSS and 27,500 kilometres of HLS permissive linear access paths (footpath, bridleway/cycle routes, reduced mobility access and upgrades to existing paths) have expired along with 5500 ha (CSS) and 4000 ha (HLS) of permissive open access. These 58,500 km of paths and 9,500 ha of open access were present on about 3600 sites. Agreement holders with permissive access options were initially encouraged to continue offering access, if practicable, without payment, but we do not have any record of the extent to which this occurred. During 2021/22 Natural England, on behalf of Defra, will be conducting research to determine what happened to access provision after the end of Stewardship agreements to help inform future public access provision within schemes.