Farmers in Wales could be forced to maintain public rights of way or risk losing part of their direct payments from January 2015.

The move, which has been set out by the Welsh government in a consultation on cross-compliance rules, has been rejected by NFU Cymru officials.

A spokesman for the union said footpath maintenance was an issue for local authorities and accused the Welsh government of attempting to “gold-plate” cross-compliance regulations.

Additional rules being proposed include extending the requirement not to cultivate within one metre of a traditional field boundary to all fields. Previously it has been a requirement only for fields bigger than two hectares.

Farmers would also be prevented from controlling scrub between 1 March and 31 August.

NFU Cymru said these rules would place Welsh farmers at a competitive disadvantage to their UK and European counterparts.

Its president, Stephen James, said the union was disappointed by the proposals. “We believe it is wholly unfair that farmers in Wales will face more costly or burdensome conditions to unlock the Basic Payment Scheme than farmers elsewhere.”

Mr James also wanted a more proportionate approach to the application of penalties. “There is a need for the Welsh government to recognise that there are occasions when breaches of cross-compliance are neither intentional or negligent and are completely beyond the farmer’s control.

“There is a clear need for a mechanism to allow flexibility within cross-compliance rules going forward to take into account, for example, adverse weather patterns.”

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