FARMERS from across Wales are worried that Welsh Government proposals for greater public access to the countryside will lead to problems from irresponsible thrill seekers.

Deputy minister for housing and local government Hannah Blythyn released the government’s response to the 2017 Sustainable Management of Natural Resources (SMNR) consultation as part of a written statement.

She revealed that she will make significant changes to access rights with 'an assumption of non-motorised multi-use on access land and the public rights of way network'.

It is hoped that this will provide users, such as cyclists and horse riders, with more opportunities to access the outdoors.

The AM for Delyn also confirmed that minor technical reforms, which were widely supported, will be introduced as soon as a suitable legislative vehicle can be identified.

These include placing dogs on a short-fixed lead in the vicinity of livestock at all times of the year and amending the technical provisions around creating, diverting, and extinguishing rights of way.

The minister also announced that an independent access reform group will be established to consider how more significant changes to access rights should be implemented – including multi-use paths and reducing restrictions on open access land.

Hedd Pugh, NFU Cymru rural affairs board chairman, said: “Following the closure of the SMNR consultation in autumn 2017, farmers have been waiting with bated breath to see how Welsh Government would consider the responses and move forward.

“The minister’s statement includes a number of non-controversial elements that we look forward to working on with government, not least the proposals around enforcing short fixed-length leads on dogs in the vicinity of livestock all year round.

“There do, however, remain a number of areas of concerns for our members. Near the top of this list are changes to multi-use access rights on public rights of way and access land.

“These changes could see ‘thrill-seekers’, as the minister has described them, being granted increased rights on farmland across Wales. Access is not always responsible, and it is farm businesses across Wales who bear a disproportionate burden of this.

“The proposals also do little to address farmers’ fears that they could end up incurring increased costs and liabilities as a result of extended access.

“Most farmers will be able to tell you of cases where anti-social behaviour and dog worrying, for example, has had an emotional and financial impact on their farm and yet they are the ones left holding the bill.

“We want the public to enjoy access to the great outdoors, but this must be managed in a manner that is safe for the custodians of the land and access users.”