Thank you for contacting me about improving access to the countryside.
I am told that the Government is currently reflecting on concerns about the Bill raised by colleagues and interested parties during the Committee stage. I look forward to the Bill coming back to the House, at which point I will have the opportunity to vote on any amendments brought forward.
Let me start by assuring you that I am enthusiastic about promoting recreation in the countryside, and understand the benefits outdoor activities can produce both physically and mentally. In a 2015 Government survey nearly 60 per cent of adults said it was our countryside which makes them most proud of Britain.
Everyone, including people with disabilities and limited mobility, should be able to access and enjoy the countryside. Local authorities are required to keep a Rights of Way Improvement Plan and are expected to improve access for a range of users where possible. This could include replacing stiles with gaps or gates. The new Agriculture Act also gives the Government the power to provide financial assistance to support public access to the countryside. I would encourage you to contact your local council for further information on access to the countryside for disabled users in our area.
Throughout this pandemic, my Ministerial colleagues have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors. As part of the Winter Covid Plan, I am pleased that greenspaces such as parks in towns and cities can be used and footpaths and other rights of way in rural areas remain open, however it is important that guidelines on social distancing are followed at all times.
The Agriculture Act is one of the most important environmental reforms for many years and sets out powers to reward farmers and land managers who protect our environment, including providing access to the countryside. The centre piece of the UK's future policy will be made up of three component parts: the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will pay for farmers for actions taken to manage their land in an environmentally sustainable way; Local Nature Recovery, which will pay farmers for actions that support local nature recovery and deliver local environmental priorities; and Landscape Recovery, which will support the delivery of landscape and ecosystem recovery through long-term projects to change the uses to which land is put. This could also include the creation of new paths, such as footpaths and bridleways, so that not as many horses have to use the roads. I am encouraged that throughout the process of designing our future agriculture policy Ministers have consulted widely with farmers and others.
Ministers are committed to planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK by 2025, and have an ambitious plan to create a new 'Northern Forest' along the M62 corridor. I am pleased that the Government are also supporting natural habitats like woodlands and peat bogs. During the 2020 Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that the Government will provide £640m for a new Nature for Climate fund, to protect, restore and expand these habitats.
The landmark Environment Bill will ensure that environmental principles are enshrined in law and measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive. The Nature Recovery Network Delivery Partnership, led by Natural England, will bring together representatives from over 600 organisations to drive forward the restoration of protected sites and landscapes and help provide at least 500,000 hectares of new wildlife-rich habitat across England. The Network will link together our very best nature rich places, restore landscapes in towns and the countryside and create new habitats for everybody to enjoy.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP