Walkers, footpaths, and farmers – not a good mix?

The Covid-19 lockdown left many people with a lot of free time and unable to do what they used to. Gyms and swimming pools were replaced by walking or running outside. Young children were running riot at home, so parents looked for new ways to tire them out. Luckily, we all had access to public footpaths during the lockdown. 

Large numbers of people flocked to the countryside as it was the only real alternative to sitting at home. As a result, public footpaths have been filling up with more and more people as lockdown has eased.

The impact of the lockdown on the countryside

I am lucky enough to live in the idyllic area of North Yorkshire. Now more than ever, I get to embrace the full use of the public footpaths and bridle paths that surround me. 

The start of the lockdown was great. I could use routes normally too busy for me and my horse. However, the peace didn’t last long… My local village quickly became a nightmare to ride through. 

Double parked cars were blocking the roads and access to fields. Large groups of cyclists would just whizz past without a warning or consideration for others.

Access to public footpaths during lockdown

It was also a very difficult time for farmers, especially with silage in full swing. Gateways were being blocked by walkers’ cars. Everyone wanted to park as close as possible to their chosen route. People even parked in corners of fields and on junctions. All this made it even harder to negotiate large machines in already tight spaces.

I was told about a farmer in Edale who went out to feed his sheep one day and got attacked by ‘visitors’. This farmer keeps sheep on the side of a public footpath and each day he would spray the gate handles to disinfect them. 

Large numbers of visitors came by the area every day and he was getting tired of it. One day, he came across a man and politely asked him to go back home because the area was getting too busy. In response, he was violently attacked and Derbyshire police were called to the incident.

A little about the rules

Farmers being abused over access to public footpaths and bridle paths is very upsetting. They work hard each year to maintain them for the visitors to use. 

Landowners are required to keep rights of way open and useable. That means they must provide and maintain stiles and gates in good working order. They also are required to cut vegetation that could obstruct the route. 

Paths that cross fields must be reinstated within 14 days of the first disturbance if a crop is being grown there. The right to responsible access means that people can walk across an uncropped field where no path exists. If there are crops growing on a field, walkers must stick to the field edges.

If you’re using public rights of way, please familiarise yourself with the rules.

Using footpaths 

I’m sure that almost everyone reading this has accessed a public footpath or a bridle path during lockdown. I can be almost certain that everyone who used a path enjoyed the experience. Be it because of the natural beauty of the area or because the path was tidy and easy to use. 

These paths would be a lot less enjoyable without the hard work of the farmers and landowners to maintain them. The beautiful fields surrounding these routes wouldn’t look very attractive without careful management either.

Support British farmers

I am passionate about supporting British farmers. They continue to work extremely hard through these difficult times. Stories of farmers getting abused by walkers or of big store chains opting to use cheaper produce from other countries really upsets me.

One thing I’ve been wondering about recently is whether honesty boxes placed around the countryside would help improve relations between visitors and the rural communities. They could be placed in visitor hotspots such as parking places, picnic areas or at the start of popular public footpaths. Every happy user could then pop in a symbolic pound after a visit. The proceeds could be used to maintain those areas in even better shape.

Buy British

Personally, I believe that now is the time for the British public to show their appreciation for farmers and landowners’ hard work by buying British produce. That might mean spending a bit more at local farm shops or butchers, yes. But at least you know where your food has come from. 

Morrisons and Aldi source all their beef and lamb from British farmers for both their premium and standard lines, however, Sainsbury’s and Asda use British beef and lamb just for their premium lines. Shouldn’t everyone do more to support British farmers?