We all need exercise – farmers must not illegally close footpaths during the national emergency #coronavirus

We all need exercise – farmers must not illegally close footpaths during the national emergency #coronavirus

Many of us are getting a bit stir crazy. Pinned down to our homes and our gardens, when we have a garden. Allowed out for essentials like shopping and medical appointments. And our single permitted daily walk.

We benefit in Ludlow from good access to the countryside. We can stroll past pleasant gardens into green and leafy fields and woods. One of our well walked routes heads out of town along Burway and across the fields towards Bromfield, where sadly the café and The Clive are closed for the duration. It’s a great route and you can return via Oakley Park to The Cliffe or cut across the fields east of the A49 to return via Elm Lodge and Fishmore Road.

But now this route is blocked at Burway farm. Signs say: “Sorry. Footpath closed due to coronavirus. Thank you.” Polite but illegal. I have asked Shropshire Council to get the signs removed and the right of way reopened.

The blocked bridleway is 70 metres from the nearest farm buildings separated by farm sheds. Yet the two signs refuse access for those on foot and horse. This is illegal.

Most local farmers welcome careful walkers and riders on their land. They recognise that the countryside is a public good. They know their land is a vital resource for exercise, public health and wellbeing.

The law is clear. If the path is blocked deliberately it’s a criminal offence under Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980, as amended. Offenders can face a fine and criminal record:

137. Penalty for wilful obstruction

(1) If a person, without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding Level 3 on the standard scale.

(2) A constable may arrest without warrant any person whom he sees committing an offence against this section.

Level 3 allows magistrates to impose fines of up to £1,000. They can also order the landowner to remove the instruction. Failure to comply will lead to fines of up to £250 a day.

The government’s latest advice issued on 20 March is clear:

Landowners do not have the legal right to block or obstruct public rights of way. However, in very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using such routes, landowners may consider the following measures:

  • tying gates open if it is safe to do so, so that walkers do not need to touch the gate.
  • temporarily displaying polite notices that encourage users to respect local residents and workers by following social distancing guidelines and consider using alternative routes that do not pass through gardens, farmyards or schools.
  • offering an alternative route around gardens and farmyards only where it is safe to do so (you must gain permission from relevant landowners and make sure the route is safe for users and livestock) provided that the original right of way is maintained.

The blocked path at Burway Farm is not a route used by “large numbers of people”. But it is a popular route. I had suggested that is good for a longer stroll to and from Bromfield that takes in Oakley Park. It also a promoted route, Walk 4 & Walk 5 in the series, Ludlow Country Walks.

Ludlow Country Walk 4

The NFU has endorsed the government’ rules and provided suitable signage for farmers. NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said:

“The health of those living and working in the countryside also has to be safeguarded and walkers need to be aware of their role in protecting rural people. It is also a busy time in the farming calendar with plenty of young lambs around and we ask dog owners to take extra precautions when walking through farmland.

“We hope the new guidance from Defra will help keep farmers safe as they continue to do their bit for the country, and we continue to ask the public to heed the social distancing guidelines, follow the Countryside Code and use the rights of way network responsibly as we all work to overcome this crisis.”

That’s good advice. We should all take heed of it.

The risk of catching coronavirus from gates is very low and sensible precautions can be taken, Farmers Weekly reports. A poll for the same magazine shows some support for closing footpaths, 40% of the 5,300 respondents but 60% want rights of way to remain open. That shows a measure of concern but does not give landowners and farmers the right to close down footpaths and bridleways.

If you find a footpath or bridleway blocked for any reason, report it to outdoor.recreation@shropshire.gov.uk. Any harassment from farmers or dangerous practices such as use of barbed wire to block passage, should be reported to the police on 101.

3 thoughts on “We all need exercise – farmers must not illegally close footpaths during the national emergency #coronavirus

  1. Andy I could not disagree with your comments more.
    If the parks are closed and the forest walks closed why should that burden then fall on farmers to keep foot paths open across their yards.
    As for phoning the police , it would be nice to see the police actually police the countryside, stop people driving out to meet their friends whilst pretending to walk their dogs, it would be nice to think dog walkers would keep their dogs under control and not running around chasing the wild life and farm animals and running around private land so I have every sympathy with the farmer.
    I have never seen so many walker and cyclists out in the countryside before now we are in lock down.

  2. Another thing people can do when they’re out getting the exercise which will help to boost their immunities, wherever they go is to take a spare bag with them to collect up the rubbish – most of it plastic – both normal careless chuckaway stuff, as well as agricultural detritus – feed bags, fertiliser bags, silage wrapping, which ends up all over the place. I’ve collected bag loads of the stuff which I’ll take to the reycle centres when this emergency is over.
    If everyone did this everytime they walked., Ludlow and the country that surrounds it would look a lot more pleasing.

  3. It doesn’t surprise me that this particular farmer shut their gate, some just don’t like people around full stop and this farmer has given this impression in the past. It seems pretty clear that farmers who are naturally hostile to walkers (especially during lambing season) find cause to use the virus crisis as extra justification for actions they would love to take in normal times.

    To a certain degree I certainly emphasise with the motivation, there are some dog walkers who leave their dogs unleashed near farm animals and that is an extra worry during a very worrying time. But I’ve read some very silly comments about risking the lives of farmers by touching stiles, gates and the like. The risk of catching the virus by touching an outdoor surface in the countryside is likely to be astronomically low according to available evidence, but if this is a genuine worry then farmers would be using gloves and washing hands when handling gates used by the public. In other words, this should be a non-issue.

    I wish people would stop bullying about behaviours that carry neglible risk, like a responsibly done walk through the countryside, which makes a huge positive personal impact on one’s health. It is particularly nasty to accuse sensible exercisers that they are adding to the bodycount, merely for daring to get fresh air and exercise. I wish their anger would concentrate on the real culprits of this crisis, the party that crippled the NHS and botched the response to the coronavirus so badly that it has the UK on track to be the worst hit country in Europe.

    There’s been more anger about people going for exercise than there has been for a Govt that sent its nurses and doctors to fight a crisis without PPE. Instead of holding them accountable, they are polling over 50%. I don’t know what is more shameful, the Govt or the public for backing a cast of incompetent and downright uncaring collection of narcisists. Instead people are channeling their angst onto their neighbours.

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