The Single Payment Scheme for farmers (SPS) requires farmers to demonstrate that they are keeping their land in good agricultural and environmental condition (GAEC), and are complying with a number of legal requirements. Meeting these requirements is described in the legislation as 'cross compliance'. The regulations are available.
Cross compliance covers many aspects of land management including protection of public rights of way (GAEC 8). Overall if landowners comply with existing rights of way legislation they will meet their obligations under the single payment scheme.
These requirements include :
- Landowners must keep all visible rights of way open, unobstructed to their full width and on their legal line, as required by the Highways Act 1980 (as amended by the Rights of Way Act 1990). They should maintain stiles and gates which are their responsibility and reinstate cross-field paths where they are disturbed by agricultural activities such as ploughing.
- Where the rules of cross-compliance require a two metre protection zone next to a hedgerow or watercourse if there is an existing public right of way alongside these features access should continue along its current line and it may occupy the same land as part of a protection zone.
Leicestershire County Council have looked at how cross compliance will affect delivery of the ROWIP. See the chapter from their draft ROWIP.
DEFRA offers advice to landowners and managers. The following points are taken from this advice.
Good practice – actions landowners can take to help get the best results:
- Determine whether your have any rights of way on your farm, where they go and what width they should be by consulting your local highway authority which holds the Definitive Map and Statement for your area. The highway authority can also provide some financial help for new gates or stiles.
- Where possible, work with local partners and access groups to foster good relationships that will help you and the general public to enjoy the countryside more.
- Cut back vegetation overhanging the path or encroaching from the sides if the right of way is becoming overgrown or the line is becoming difficult to see on the ground. The highway must be kept open under law. If the vegetation is a hedgerow you should cut it at the appropriate time, making sure that the path is passable.
- Provide adequate bridges across new or widened ditches after getting permission to do this from your local highway authority.
- You should warn the public of potential dangers on or near rights of way – for example, cliffs and slurry lagoons. Hazards such as old quarries and mine shafts should be fenced off or made safe, otherwise you may be liable for any injuries caused.
- You may plough a right of way if it runs across a field but only if you could not conveniently avoid doing so. If you do, you must restore the surface within a specified time limit to a required standard.
- The widths below apply only to cross-field and field-edge paths. Check the Definitive Statement for these and any other path types to find out if any of them have described widths and apply the Statement widths if they exist.
Path Minimum width Maximum width Cross-field footpath 1.0 m 1.8 m Field-edge footpath 1.5 m 1.8 m Cross-field bridleway 2.0 m 3.0 m Field-edge bridleway 3.0 m 3.0 m Other unsurfaced highway 3.0 m 5.0 m
Bad practice – actions to avoid
- You must not keep an animal known to be dangerous (including bulls of any breed) in a field to which the public have access.
- Bulls should not be kept in a field crossed by a public right of way except where they are less than 10 months old or are not of a recognised dairy breed (where they must be accompanied by cows or heifers). Warning signs relating to bulls should only be displayed when there is a bull in the field.
- Field-edge footpaths and bridleways, byways open to all traffic, and restricted byways should never be cultivated.
- You should not disturb a cross-field path when you can reasonably avoid doing so, or fail to reinstate a cross-field path within the prescribed time.
- You must not spray any rights of way with a pesticide where its use will pose a risk to the public.
- You must not erect misleading signs that might discourage a person from using a right of way or land designated as access land under the Countryside Rights of Way (CROW) Act.
If landowners or farmers do not comply with the requirements and standards, they may have their direct payments, including the single payment, reduced by part or all of the amount they would have received. In certain circumstances, they could also be excluded from aid schemes in the subsequent year. All cross compliance requirements apply to actions or omissions taken by the farmer or by somebody acting on their behalf.
Any breaches of compliance can be reported to the Rural Payments Agency.