Norfolk's permissive footpaths are disappearing - but one village has found a way to preserve these routes
PUBLISHED: 11:54 21 December 2018 | UPDATED: 16:30 21 December 2018
A change in government policy is believed to have halved Norfolk's permissive footpaths in the last two years - prompting one village community to forge a new partnership with a farming landowner to preserve these valuable routes into the countryside.
Farmers were previously funded for providing permissive access – footpaths allowed by the permission of landowner, but which are not legal rights of way – under Entry Level and Higher Level Stewardship (ELS and HLS) schemes.
But when those schemes were replaced with the Countryside Stewardship (CS) programme in 2015, financial support for permissive access was not included, as payments were targeted at environmental and biodiversity measures.
As a result, some farmers have been closing footpaths as they are not funded to manage them, and they don’t want to risk applications being made to turn them into public rights of way based on their historic use.
According to the Norfolk Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group (FWAG), the length of these permissive paths in Norfolk stood at 158 miles in 2016, but with ELS and HLS agreements expiring there are now estimated to be only 65 miles remaining.
However, in Bradenham, near Dereham, a community solution has been found.
An agreement has been struck between the parish council and landowners to identify the routes most in demand by villagers and, with the help of Norfolk FWAG, a five-year legal agreement has been signed which directs parish funding towards the paths’ upkeep.
Chris Allhusen, owner of Bradenham Hall Farms and also chairman of Bradenham Parish Council, said: “It is a scheme funded by Bradenham people for Bradenham people.
“We are providing a lot of footpaths free of charge, which are farm tracks and blackcurrant headlands that we would be mowing anyway. The only ones we are charging for is land we could have otherwise put into our Mid Tier CS scheme so we are asking the parish council to compensate us for that. We are not talking huge amounts of money, but it has given 12km of access around Bradenham.”
Mr Allhusen said agreements like this could be used by other village communities to retain footpaths until the implementation of the new Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), set to replace current EU subsidy structures after Brexit, which he hopes will reintroduce funding for public access.
“We hope that anything like this could add pressure on the government to bring permissive footpaths back into their environmental schemes,” he said.
“In all reality I don’t see the ELMS coming in for four or five years, but I really do hope they will bring back public access, particularly in the East of England.
“Norfolk is very highly reliant on permissive paths because, not being a traditional livestock area, we have very few public rights of way – so the loss of these paths here was much more prevalent.
“With the HLS scheme it was up to the landowner to decide what areas to give over to public access. But we have identified the routes that the local people decided they wanted. The routes have been chosen and agreed by the local people, they have been financed by local people and they will be used by local people.”
The agreement was welcomed by appreciative dog walkers – some saying the availability of footpaths was one of the reasons they moved to the village in the first place.
Mike Edwards, business manager from Norfolk FWAG, said: “These are really important routes as they often provide safe places to walk away from roads, keep local people engaged with the farmed environment and also play an important role in people’s mental and physical health.”