Response from government "missed opportunity" on responsible countryside access says British Cycling

British Cycling is calling for a meeting with the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) after the department provided a “lacklustre response” to British Cycling’s letter calling for better public access to outdoor places for mountain biking.

In the letter, DEFRA minister Lord Gardiner said that the government did “not consider that it would be appropriate to introduce access in England on the lines of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 as a Scottish model would not be a substitute for public rights of way.”

Lord Gardiner also said that in Scotland – where access all country paths is allowed – “access to lowland farmland remains inferior to similar land in England” and that “population density of England is different to that of Scotland.”

Commenting on the response, British Cycling’s campaigns manager, Martin Key, said: “The response from DEFRA is a missed opportunity. Their unwillingness to consider the benefits that this could bring to everyone in Britain, not just those who live in the countryside, is frustrating.

“Using pithy excuses like Scotland’s population density compared with England also just highlights a lack of understanding of the issues at play.

“If the Minister would like to speak to Scottish Ministers he will see that there are locations of equal population density and land pressure in Scotland and England where responsible access has been a great success and we feel that DEFRA are missing the opportunity to see the positive economic impact of mountain biking and recreational cycling on the rural economy.

“The Scottish economy benefits from nearly £50 million a year due to Mountain Biking – England and Wales need to feel this benefit as well.”

The response from the DEFRA minister also states that “there are no plans to change legislation to upgrade all footpaths to bridleways” and that “structures such as stiles and kissing gates would also need to be replaced.”

Martin Key added: “We’re not asking for footpaths to be made into bridleways or for stiles to be replaced. This misses the point.

“We’d like to see the government take some first steps to run pilots and commission additional research into this issue. Scotland has proved that responsible access can work and it is short-sighted of the government not to be open to the many benefits that it can bring.

“We would like to sit down with Lord Gardiner, discuss with him what we are calling for in more detail, and show that what we are calling for is sustainable and in the best interests of so many people nationwide.”

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British Cycling also wrote to the Welsh cabinet secretary for environment and rural affairs, Lesley Griffiths, to ask Wales to adopt a responsible access model. Referencing a recent consultation on the issue run by the Welsh government, Griffiths said: “I intend to consider all of the evidence from the recent consultation before I make any decisions on reforming opportunities for access to the outdoors.”