New permissive access forms an important element of the environmental improvements made under agri-environment schemes. Permissive footpaths, bridle and cycle paths, open access areas and routes suitable for those with reduced mobility, offer the public opportunities to take a walk or ride in areas of interest for nature, historic or landscape conservation and allows them an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate interesting and important areas of the English countryside. Many sites contain features such as ancient monuments or interesting species of wildlife, while others are examples of our farming heritage. Access sites vary enormously, from enclosed uplands to village edge paths, traditional orchards, riverside and coastal walks to small historic monuments, to enclosed hay meadows. Some sites are in our most valued landscapes such as National Parks, while others will be on the edge of towns or in Community Forests creating walks for local people. Most sites are on working farmland.
There are currently 1800+ agri-environment scheme access sites in England.
The Defra Conservation Walks and Rides website at http://countrywalks.defra.gov.uk provides details, including maps, for each site. In addition, an annual ‘snapshot’ paper register of walks for each County is issued to Tourist Information Centres, Libraries and Youth Hostels.
Defra Conservation Management Division (CMD) wish to let a contract to survey a sample of permissive access sites to determine the degree of use that is made of these sites by the public and their reaction to them.
Objectives of the Survey
In order to assess the degree and success of the use made of sites we need to:
· Determine whether routes and sites are placed in locations which meet a public (or latent) demand, including suitability for users with disabilities
· Determine whether current levels of publicity are reaching target audiences, resulting in use of sites
· Obtain feedback from users as to whether they consider the site gives value for money, and whether they would be prepared to pay to visit if permissive access were not available
· Obtain feedback as to whether users think there is a need for more permissive access in the area
· Canvas public opinion as to what improvements could be made