Monday, 14 June 2021

Training will improve access to the countryside for all

A SPECIALIST centre designed to make access to the countryside easy for everyone has opened at the Aston Rowant nature reserve.

The National Land Access Centre — the first in the country — is aimed at wheelchair users and others with mobility needs as well as disabled and able-bodied horse riders, cyclists and walkers.

It was opened by Lord Blencathra, deputy chairman of Natural England, on Friday.

The centre demonstrates the use, maintenance and installation of gaps, gates and stiles that meet the new British Standard for improved countryside access. Located in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it has been developed by Natural England in partnership with the British Horse Society, Centrewire and the Pittecroft Trust.

Research shows there are about 519 million visits to paths, cycleways and bridleways in England each year but the figure would be higher if people with mobility issues had better access.

More than 20 per cent of England’s population cannot use public rights of way either because they cannot use stiles or kissing gates themselves or are accompanying someone who can’t. Lord Blencathra said: “This project is the culmination of many years of partnership working and determination to ensure that our countryside can rightfully be enjoyed by everyone.

“Improved access will help to connect more people with their natural environment, giving them a chance to enjoy our countryside, its open space and fascinating wildlife — all key aspects of the Government’s 25-year environment plan.

“The National Land Access Centre has the potential to make such a difference to people’s lives.”

The launch also marked the 60th anniversary of the nature reserve, one of the first in the country to offer wider public access.

Since 1994, members of the public have been actively encouraged to explore the reserve through the removal of unnecessary stiles, gates and fences and the installation of easy-access gates.

Landowners, land managers, rights of way officers and other users will be able to attend training courses at the centre about understanding the new standard and its application.

This will involve testing new equipment with a view to installing it across the nation.

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