An evaluation of permissive access under Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) options was carried out over the period October 2011 – March 2012 by CCRI in conjunction with Ken Taylor of Asken Ltd. The evaluation included telephone and face-to-face interviews with a sample of HLS permissive access agreement holders, and face-to-face interviews with a range of national and local level stakeholders representing user groups and other interested bodies such as local authorities. The aim of the study was to evaluate the contribution of HLS permissive access options, and explore the potential for future voluntary provision of access.
The research indicates that the HLS Permissive Access options have provided additional access to the countryside, in terms of area of open access, length of footpath, bridleway, and disabled access, and the majority of this access can be classified as ‘new’ access.

A wide range of benefits has been delivered through permissive access options in HLS agreements for both agreement holders and users, including: improved relationships between agreement holders and local communities, higher levels of contact between farmers and the public, greater accessibility to a range of sites of interest, improved safety by getting horses and/or people off dangerous roads, and in some cases, permissive access agreements enable access to specific sites of interest, or creation of links with public rights of way. The survey evidence reveals a strong element of altruism in the provision of access. A significant proportion of farmers and land managers are providing access to fulfil a recognised local demand. The study also indicates benefits in terms of better relationships between farmers and the public, and better relationships with local communities making use of the resource. These benefits are recognised and valued by permissive access agreement holders.

Dr John Powell led the CCRI team, which included Dr Carol Kambites and Nick Lewis.

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