HC Deb 24 March 1994 vol 240 cc407-8
5. Mr. Bennett

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if she will make a statement about access to the environmentally sensitive areas of West Penwith, Somerset, lakes and moors, the South Downs, the Pennines, the Dales and the Broads and the payment farmers will receive in return for such public access.

Mr. Jack

New arrangements launched on 9 February for these ESAs will make available £274 per mile for approved routes.

Mr. Bennett

Does the Minister accept that it is welcome that there is to be extra public access both to those areas and to areas that are covered by country stewardship schemes, but how are the general public to find out which areas they are now entitled to go into?

Mr. Jack

The hon. Gentleman is a member of the Ramblers Association and, apart from walking "them thar hills", he and his colleagues have an important function in ensuring that the message about extra access to environmentally sensitive areas is made available to walkers. We will also be making the information available to local authorities, tourist information centres and local libraries. We will try to ensure that farms are properly signposted so that walkers will know where the new and excellent facility is available.

Mr. David Nicholson

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said about this initiative, but is he aware that it has been fairly difficult in recent weeks for anyone to have access to the Somerset moors and levels because they have been flooded by up to 8 or 10 ft in some areas? While that may be good news for birds, it is pretty bad news for farmers. Will he do all that he can to put pressure on the National Rivers Authority to improve its pumping and dredging activities?

Mr. Jack

I am aware of the problem to which my hon. Friend rightly draws attention. I will look into the point about the NRA and see precisely what progress has been made about the pumping arrangements. He will appreciate that ensuring that there is a proper and adequate water level on a more permanent basis is central to improving the environmental area of the Somerset levels.