By no means the worst on the farm, but this picture helps to show the current issue that many farmers across the country are experiencing. With yet another lockdown and nothing much else to do, it is quite understandable that people want to take their exercise in the beautiful British countryside. Most walkers are well aware of the Countryside Code, but it seems some of those new to visiting our public rights of way might need a little help. In the photo above, the right of way is actually some 5 metres to the right and runs just outside the field boundary.
In England and Wales there is estimated to be 140,000 miles of public rights of way including footpaths, bridleways and byways. Footpaths are for walking, running, mobility scooters or powered wheelchairs. They are normally waymarked using the colour yellow. The width is 1.5m on field edges and 1m where they cross a field. Bridleways are as footpaths but in addition horse riding and bicycles are allowed. These are marked in blue. The width here is 3m along a field edge and 2m across a field. Restricted byways are for any transport without a motor, excepting mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs. BOATS are byways open to all traffic and are for any kind of transport including cars. Finally, a much misunderstood term, that of the ‘right to roam’. This only refers to open access land which includes mountains, moors, heaths and downs and some common land. There are also areas around the English coast included in this category. Various exceptions to the use of this open access land exist and the one most relevant here is that there is no right to cross any land growing crops.
It is very wet out there at the moment, having had an above average rainfall so far this winter. The public rights of way, particularly across arable fields, are struggling with all the extra visitors and the wet weather. To put this into context; imagine if you walked across your garden just once in the wet; you might leave a few footprints. If you walked the same route every day, be it grass or plants they would soon start to suffer and die. The grass might grow back after time but the plants, whether they are flower or vegetable, would not. Now multiply this by hundreds of feet and you can see what is happening to our crops when walkers stray off the given path. It may be for social distancing, or more likely at the moment, to avoid the mud. One person doing it once is probably ok, but where one goes many follow. The crops are our livelihood and your food. If we get a poor harvest as a result of all this damage we will all end up paying more for our food in the shops. Climate change is here now and coupled with the steady increase in world population future food shortages are a real threat. We cannot rely on being able to import more of our food, so we need to look after what we grow at home. Please do use your local rights of way, we are pleased to see visitors enjoying the countryside that we help to look after. Maybe get a pair of good boots or wellies until it dries out and do try to keep off the crops as best you can.
Out of control dogs are also becoming a massive problem, disturbing wildlife and worrying livestock. Only yesterday a dog was responsible for the death of 50 sheep in Wales. For dog owners, a little help from the RSPCA when walking in the countryside, is a timely reminder.