NEWRY and Armagh DUP Assemblyman William Irwin MLA has said the debate around increasing access to the countryside is one that needs “the most careful consideration”.
Mr Irwin was speaking as DAERA reviews the issue of increased access to the countryside and consults with key stakeholders.
Mr Irwin said: "This issue is very central at this time as more people than ever are outdoors and enjoying outdoor exercise due to the current Covid19 restrictions. This of course has had an impact on the countryside and I know many farmers have reported greater instances of littering and also livestock worrying due to dogs not under control.
“The issue of actually increasing access to the countryside, which in effect means increasing access to farmer owned land, is not a simple or straightforward issue and there are many issues to consider, especially for the farmer.
“On the flip side, it is a fact that outdoor leisure provision has never been as abundant with forest parks, established and maintained greenways and cycle routes and of course outdoor play facilities for children. I know in my own local ABC Council area a tremendous amount of resources has been ploughed in to outdoor leisure and this has been very well received with usage of such facilities rocketing over the pandemic period.
“With that in mind and the resources already spent by local authorities and central government in improving outdoor leisure facilities and indeed providing funding for community bases projects, there is an amazing amount of existing provision. I feel this need to be fully realised from DAERA’s perspective before they perhaps apply pressure on the farming community to open up further access to rural farmland. This is all the more pertinent especially as we know what some of the negative effects of this can be in terms of littering, dog foul and livestock worrying.
“There is of course much more work to do around this issue and I will be speaking with the Minister directly and putting forward the views of the local farming community and encouraging a full engagement on these important issues.”