Natural England’s Norfolk path search

Ramblers, dog-walkers and horse-riders have been urged to discover East Anglia’s little-known network of permissive paths – before access rights disappear under cost-cutting government policies.

Natural England (NE) has created an online walk generator showing hundreds of permissive paths which, as temporary rights of way, do not appear on Ordnance Survey maps.

It includes 236 routes in Norfolk which are part of NE’s countryside stewardship and higher level stewardship (HLS) agreements, where landowners are paid to allow public access to parts of their private land.

But policy-makers at Defra have decided to scrap access payments from any new schemes – meaning that existing permissive rights of way will vanish when each current 10-year stewardship deal elapses.

Chris Allhusen, Norfolk chairman of the Country Land and Business Association, said he would campaign to demand that ministers reverse the decision, which he considered a “serious error” on countryside management.

Mr Allhusen is the managing partner at Bradenham Hall Farms, near Dereham, where more than 10km of permissive paths have been created under stewardship schemes, compared to only 200 metres of traditional public rights of way.

And although he felt the timing was “strange” in view of the Defra announcement, he welcomed the publication of the NE database as a long-awaited tool to help walkers and landowners share their mutual love of the countryside.

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“We have gone to a lot of trouble to provide these rights of way and we enjoy welcoming the public on to our land,” said Mr Allhusen. “So I think it is a serious error on behalf of the government to decide to scrap this.

“We believe that access is an important part of the stewardship scheme and it is the only part that the public can really see and benefit from directly.

“Around here, what people really want is to go out, walk their dog, stretch their legs and get out into the country without worrying whether a gamekeeper is about to leap out from behind a hedge.

“But the issue has always been one of how do people find out these paths exist. We know people enjoy it because they frequently say so. And we get great pleasure from sharing that enjoyment of the countryside with them.”

Work is continuing throughout the winter to maintain the 2,000-acre estate’s pathways and to coppice hedgerow trees, while maintaining wildlife corridors, habitats, and the natural appearance.

Mr Allhusen said he would still hope to maintain some of the permissive paths, even if the funding stops when his current HLS expires in 2019.

Ray Walpole, countryside office for Norfolk Ramblers, said: “People often think that farmers and walkers are at loggerheads – but we are collaborating on this, because we can see the benefits for both of us. It is absolutely vital to keep this access, and the new website will be a great help to us because it is the kind of thing we can use to find where all the permissive paths are.”

Defra said the decision was taken to end annual access payments because, with no EU funding available, limited public funds should be prioritised towards other projects including biodiversity or water quality schemes.

A Defra spokesman said: “Farmers on HLS schemes can still apply for one-off capital payments to support access to the countryside or hosting school visits to farms. This will enable them to fund items such as new stiles or car parks. The change is designed to get the best out of all available funding and focus resources on key environmental issues such as protecting wildlife and reducing water pollution.”

The NE website generates public access walks ranging from short rambles of less than one mile to more ambitious 20-mile treks. Once a walk has been selected, a route map can be downloaded or printed.

Darren Braine, NE’s regional agri-environment project manager, said: “The East of England has a vast maze of interesting walks and trails just waiting to be discovered, so this tool is great news for people who like walking, cycling or horse riding. It gives them the chance to find routes in the countryside that don’t appear on any other map.”

To search the permissive access database, visit