A ground-breaking partnership project led by Natural England has culminated in the opening of the country’s first ever specialist centre designed to open up access to the countryside for wheelchair users and those with mobility needs.
Over 20% of England’s population cannot currently use public rights of way due to mobility issues. The new National Land Access Centre, located in the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, has been designed to demonstrate the use, maintenance and installation of gaps, gates, and stiles meeting the new British Standard for improved countryside access.
The centre has been developed by Natural England, in partnership with The British Horse Society, Centrewire and the Pittecroft Trust, to ensure those who usually struggle with access to the countryside can access the natural environment and enjoy England’s beautiful countryside.
Natural England research shows there are around 519 million visits to paths, cycleways and bridleways in England each year.
However, mobility issues can be a major barrier to people heading to the countryside. Over 20% of England’s population cannot use public rights of way, either because they cannot use stiles or kissing gates themselves, or they are accompanying someone who can’t.
Deputy Chair of Natural England, Lord Blencathra said:
This project is the culmination of many years of partnership working and determination to ensure that our countryside can rightfully be enjoyed by everyone.
Improved access will help to connect more people with their natural environment, giving them a chance to enjoy our countryside, its open space and fascinating wildlife– all key aspects of the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.
I am delighted that Natural England has played a key role in the partnership responsible for developing the National Land Access Centre, which has the potential to make such a difference to people’s lives.
Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work Sarah Newton said:
Getting out into the countryside is an experience that many of us take for granted, but for disabled people it can often be much more difficult to access nature. The National Land Access Centre will play an important role in ensuring everyone can enjoy the outstanding natural beauty our country has to offer.
John Cuthbertson, Chairman for the Disabled Ramblers said:
I’m over the moon at the spirit of co-ordination and co-operation which has led to the development of the new National Land Access Centre.
Open access has got the ability to transform lives. We look forward to using the centre to test the new structures, helping to shape the future of access to the countryside.
Visitors to the National Access Centre will be able to access specialist equipment, try out new designs and touch and test real examples in situ to fully understand this new equipment in operation. They can learn about its installation and maintenance, and see what compliance with the British Standard looks like in practice.
For more information about the new National Land Access Centre or to register for a training course please contact NLAC@naturalengland.org.uk.