‘Joint up approach’ recommended on Mid and East Antrim countryside access

Mid and East Borough Council would like to see increased access to the countryside for residents and visitors.

Wednesday, 10th March 2021, 12:31 pm

The local authority believes that this can be achieved through a “joined-up approach” working with statutory agencies and private landowners.

The council was responding to a DAERA (Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs) consultation into outdoor recreation in Northern Ireland.

The consultation will seek to improve provision while protecting the environment and recognising the needs of landowners.

Right of way

It will take into account availability of public land and consider means of increasing public access.

The borough council considers there to be “very limited access to the countryside in Northern Ireland due to landowner concerns relating to liability financial implications and anti-social behaviour”.

A report to the borough council’s Direct Services Committee which will meet on Tuesday evening, says that a map of “asserted public rights of way” is available on request and that signage has not been erected due “concerns of the environmental impact with increased footfall and impact on neighbouring properties”.

The report has outlined a number of diffculties experienced by the council when trying to open up access to the countryside. These include dog walkers on land where there is livestock described as a “major concern”, gates being left open and mountain bikers “entering land where paths exist but bikes are not permitted”.

Some landowners are said to fear that their farm subsidies would be reduced if they give portions of land over for public access.

The council’s response has suggested that additional subsidies for landowners to permit access may be of “great benefit”.

The report notes that the council has two staff members who are employed to enhance outdoor recreation provision across Mid and East Antrim and to investigate matters associated with alleged rights of way.

Several external funding streams are open to the council to enhance outdoor recreation provision within the borough.

The council says that legislation is needed to support access provision within Northern Ireland for public rights of way and private landowners with the availability of an expert in countryside access legislation that councils could consult as needed.

The local authority also highlighted “conflicts of interest” over use of public land such as the Forest Service NI saying that in commercial forest sites, the “onus is growing stock for harvesting and replanting, whereas the user wants to visit a forest rather than a felled landscape”.

Michelle Weir, Local Democracy Reporter

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Click here to read: Land slippage closes section of Blackhead Path

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