Around where I live a number of signs have popped up. “Private land, no right of way.”
At first this appalled me. The footpaths that were now prohibited had been open to the public for almost 10 years and provided the people of the local village a great place to walk and exercise their dogs. Why on earth would the farmers and landowners want to take that simple pleasure away?
Then I got speaking to a farmer who told me that making his paths open access was one of the worst things he had done. His words: “give someone an inch and they take a mile,” resonated with me. Since opening his footpaths he had seen people walk straight across his fields of crops, dogs were allowed to roam freely where livestock grazed and bikes and motorbikes were regularly ridden across fields or travelled way too quickly down the rural pathways.
He also spoke about fly-tipping and general rubbish being discarded by the public on the remoter parts of his land. All in all, it was a stark reminder of just how ignorant and thoughtless people can be.
Of course it doesn’t have to be this way. At present there is an antagonism between landowners and the general public and both sides present very good cases for their arguments. The majority of walkers, ramblers and outdoor enthusiasts are respectful and caring of the countryside. In many ways, having a steady amount of people walking around farmland is a good thing – it can help deter potential fly-tippers and rural criminals. A member of the public might spot an animal in distress or animals that have escaped. These are all ways that the public can work with the farmers.
On the other hand, if people walk across precious crops, drop litter, leave gates open and allow their pets to cause chaos, then it is clearly in the farmer’s best interests to stop access.
In an ideal world, the two parties would come together and everyone would enjoy an amicable relationship, but as I drove past a pile of mattresses, fridges and general household rubbish that had been discarded on the edge of a farmer’s field, my heart sank as I realised that this is a far from ideal world and scumbags who dump rubbish so thoughtlessly just keep ruining it for the rest of us.