are Conservation Walks?
The Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries and Food (MAFF) operates a number of grant schemes which offer payments to farmers and other landowners for work to enhance and conserve English landscapes, their wildlife and history and to help people to enjoy them. Conservation Walks are the new access opportunities provided under these schemes.
The Countryside Stewardship Scheme seeks to conserve treasured landscapes and views, improve and extend wildlife habitats and preserve archaeological sites and hi features. It operates throughout England in areas such as chalk and limestone grassland which needs careful management to provide habitats for wildflowers, including orchids, and butterflies, moors and heaths where sheep grazing is important to allow heather to flourish, and waterside land where grazing and haymaking are needed to preserve the landscape.
Environmentally Sensitive Areas (ESAs) are designated areas of the countryside of particular landscape, historic or wildlife value which are under threat from changes in farming practices. Their purpose is to encourage farmers to maintain or adopt traditional farming methods which will conserve or enhance the environment. There are 22 ESAs in England covering 10% of agricultural land, ranging from the Lake District in the north to West Penwith in Cornwall, and the Clun on the Welsh border to the Norfolk Broads in East Anglia.
The Countryside Access Scheme (now closed to new applicants) provides public access for quiet recreation in the form of walks, rides or open areas on grassy land entered into set aside. (Set aside is former arable land not currently used for crops.)
do Conservation Walks offer?
Conservation Walks, as the name suggests, offer the opportunity to take a walk in areas of interest for nature, historic or landscape conservation. They provide the chance to enjoy and appreciate interesting and important areas of English countryside. Many will have some special feature such as an ancient monument or an interesting species of wildlife. Others will be examples of our farming heritage.
Conservation Walks sites vary enormously, from upland moors to village edge orchards, from riverside and coastal walks to small historic monuments, from rolling chalk downs to enclosed hay meadows. Some will be in our most valued landscapes such as national parks, others are on the edge of towns or in Community Forests.
Sites are managed for conservation, for example by farming less intensively without the use of pesticides and fertilisers. Work such as hedgerow restoration, pond creation and tree planting is also often carried out or scrub and bracken may be removed to allow other rarer plants to flourish. (Some of this work may appear quite severe when in progress but has been carefully planned to deliver long term benefits.) Some sites will be managed as once traditional but now rare farming systems, such as flooded water meadows or grazed salt marshes. You will also be able to see how modern farming can work to provide better wildlife habitats, for example by creating grassy margins around arable fields.
All Conservation Walks are on working farmland. There will often be livestock such as sheep and cows grazing and at some times farm machinery working on site, for example cutting hay. Conservation work such as that described above may also be underway when you visit. You will need to be sure to follow the country code and in particular to shut gates and keep dogs under control.
do I find conservation walks?
The Conservation Walks register contains a simple location plan and also gives an Ordnance Survey grid reference. Sites are all marked on the ground by special signs which usually contain a map showing you where you can walk (routes will also be way marked) and information about particular features and interest. Look out for the signs whilst out in the countryside. Conservation Walks may be promoted locally, for example on village notice boards, or in the local press.
The signboards will also tell you what you can and cannot do on that site, and special conditions to be observed: for example to keep dogs on a lead when stock are present. Some sites may also have more detailed information and interpretation boards where there is something of particular interest.
how long is access available?
The access provided for Conservation Walks is not permanent access but is provided under an agreement with the landowner or manager. Agreements are usually 5 - 10 years long initially. The dates for each site are given in the register.
Occasionally in the interests of safety or to protect wildlife it may be necessary to close sites temporarily. Notices will be posted if this is so. Sometimes agreements may be terminated early although we make every effort to keep information on availability up to date and accurate.
can I do on Conservation Walks?
Conservation Walks, of course, provide walks along paths. This may be a short family stroll along a riverside or a bracing hill top hike. Because the sites and areas vary considerably the type of walk available will be different on each site. Some offer open access where you may walk at will across an area of land.
Many sites provide other opportunities for enjoying the countryside. Some include bridle or cycle paths for horse riding or cycling. Some will also have special provision for people with disabilities, such as gates and paths suitable for wheel chairs. In all cases Conservation Walks aim to be accessible by all users where possible, so, for example, sites may have gates rather than stiles, or paths may have a firm surface making them easier for the very young or elderly.
Some Conservation Walks sites can be used for picnics or informal games. They may also provide opportunities for nature study and bird watching (some have hides) or the chance to learn about local history (historic and archaeological sites may have information boards). All will provide the chance cc simply to pause and enjoy the countryside.
Information on what you can do is available for each site (see below).
do I find out more?
A register of Conservation Walks is available for each county. This gives details about each site: its location, the area or length of walk, the best time to visit and particular points of interest. The register will also tell you about the type of activity available, for example if the site is suitable for picnics. The register is updated regularly with new sites.
You may consult a Conservation Walks register at libraries, Tourist Information Centres and local authority countryside and highways departments. You will usually be able to take copies of the page for any sites that interest you. Or you may ask for a copy for a particular county from MAFF The register is also held at an interactive site on the internet: "http://www.countrywalks.org.uk." You can interrogate the information held, for example, to select sites in your area with historical features.
To request a copy of a conservation walks register or for more information on the Countryside Stewardship Scheme or Environmentally Sensitive Areas Scheme, please contact:
CONSERVATION MANAGEMENT DIVISION
17 Smith Square
London SW1P 3JR
© Crown copyright 1996 PB2693
Amended reprint December 1999
Photographs produced by kind permission of the Countryside Agency.
Further copies of this leaflet are available from: MAFF Publications, Admail 6000 London SW1A 2XX (Telephone 08459 556000). http://www.maff.gov.uk