Thank you for contacting me about improving access to the countryside.
Let me start by assuring you that I am enthusiastic about promoting recreation in the countryside and understand the benefits outdoor activities can produce both physically and mentally. Our countryside is of great importance and it cannot be understated just how much the scenery means to people. In fact, in a 2015 Government survey nearly 60 per cent of adults said it was our countryside which makes them most proud of Britain, and I can only agree with these people.
The Agriculture Act is one of the most important environmental reforms for many years, rewarding farmers for the work they do to safeguard our environment, including providing public access to the countryside, and helping us meet crucial goals on climate change and protecting nature and biodiversity.
Ministers are committed to planting 30,000 hectares of trees a year across the UK by 2025, and have an ambitious plans to create a new 'Northern Forest' along the M62 corridor. I am pleased that the Government are also supporting natural habitats like woodlands and peat bogs. During the 2020 Budget, the Chancellor confirmed that the Government will provide £640m for a new Nature for Climate fund, to protect, restore and expand these habitats.
The landmark Environment Bill will ensure that environmental principles are enshrined in law and measures will be introduced to improve air and water quality, tackle plastic pollution and restore habitats so plants and wildlife can thrive. A new framework for Local Nature Recovery Strategies will also be legislated for in the Environment Bill, to help support the Nature Recovery Network and better direct investment in the environment and green infrastructure – creating places that are richer in wildlife and provide wider benefits for local communities.
Throughout this pandemic, my Ministerial colleagues have worked to find safe ways to enable more people to spend more time outdoors. During this time of additional restrictions, I am pleased that greenspaces such as parks in towns and cities can be used and footpaths and other rights of way in rural areas remain open, however it is important that guidelines on social distancing are followed at all times.