Judy Terry is a marketing professional and a former local councillor in Suffolk.
With walking, cycling, and camping, increasingly popular, there are renewed calls for increasing people’s access to our countryside, beyond national parks and designated rights of way.
Local authorities have a statutory duty to publish and review – at least every ten years – a Right of Way Improvement Plan, with a view to doing just that, whilst protecting the environment.
Exploring the countryside with friends and family raises awareness of how important it is to sustain the environment, watch birds and wildlife, taking photos or spending time painting landscapes. It supports general wellbeing, but also requires responsibility.
Many farmers and other landowners are reluctant to allow increased access to their land because of the abuse they have suffered, especially in recent years, with tons of domestic rubbish (mattresses, fridges etc.) dumped which costs hundreds of pounds to remove. There have also been increasing incidents of dogs attacking sheep, chickens, and other stock, or people leaving disposable barbeques which can start wildfires.
Genuinely enthusiastic community groups should talk to landowners to see how they can help to avoid all these problems, perhaps developing a ‘club’ membership to negotiate access as a group by agreement at specific times that won’t conflict with essential farm work and maintenance.
Most importantly, everyone, from all backgrounds, including the disabled, should be encouraged and supported to enjoy the countryside, safely.
Suffolk County Council is celebrating breaking down barriers with the launch of ‘Ambling African Women’, a new partnership with PHOEBE, the Ipswich-based charity advocating for black and ethnic minority women and children.
A guided walk from Snape Maltings along the river and back, attracted around 30-40 women of all ages and fitness, from babies in pushchairs up to retirement, with plenty of chatting and socialising along the way, followed by lunch and traditional African music.
Part of the wider work by the Green Access and Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty teams, addressing inequalities, the partnership will help inform future interventions that will be offered to other community groups facing similar barriers to visiting the countryside.
Cabinet member, Cllr. Paul West, was delighted to see the level of enthusiasm:
“We have such beautiful countryside here in Suffolk and it’s there to be enjoyed by all.
“The project aims to encourage those who may face barriers, and is in part a culmination of ‘Discovering Suffolk’ which has delivered a new Suffolk walking app, is installing QR codes to raise awareness.”
Mrs. Mollin Delve, founder and CEO of PHOEBE, said:
“It is amazing that PHOEBE has been included as pioneer, stakeholder in planning and delivering this exciting and enjoyable work. Our involvement has confirmed the many challenges that black women and children face in accessing landscape, including working long hours with no time or funds for recreation.
“As a group, we have been able to overcome the transport barrier and extend our gratitude to SCC for reaching out to us and offering this support.”