WE want more access and better landscapes in the South Downs National Park.
That was the message from Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society at a rally on Saturday to celebrate the seventh anniversary of the park.
Speaking in Midhurst, she said: “We must make sure post-Brexit agricultural payments are used to improve public access and the landscape so that places like the South Downs National Park will benefit.
“Public money must be spent on public goods.
“And that means improving our enjoyment of the countryside with better paths and more access land and restoring the downs and heaths for people and wildlife.
“The public-path network is at risk of neglect and deterioration from lack of funding as the county councils have other priorities even in the national park.
“We have seen local authorities threatening to sell off their precious downland – Worthing then Eastbourne and Brighton.
“Fortunately, they backed down in the face of public pressure but not before Brighton sold some land.
“And the future of these downlands is still uncertain.”
The Open Spaces Society wants an agricultural-payments scheme post-Brexit which benefits both landowners and users of paths and access land.
The basic elements are:
l payments for new access either along defined paths or as freedom to roam, or both. It must be well publicised and targeted where people want it, and ideally it should be permanent.
l rewards for enhancing existing access, for instance by making wider paths, removing stiles and gates, and providing additional access-points to access land.
l better enforcement when farmers and landowners block, plough or crop paths, with an efficient, swift procedure to dock the agricultural payments.