23 February 1996

Roam policy fuels theft fears

ATTEMPTS by the Ramblers Association to open the countryside to the public will lead to more cases of rural vandalism, theft and criminal activity, leading landowners warn.

Hugh van Cutsem, who farms at Hilborough, Norfolk, claimed the Ramblers Associations Access to the Countryside Bill would provide poachers and animal welfare activists with an excuse to get onto farmland.

Mr van Cutsem, chairman of the Countryside Business Group, told a Country Landowners Association/Birketts seminar at Snape, near Ipswich, Suffolk, of problems faced by local landowners. "We have two nearby farms – one farmer has just a single bridleway passing through his land, and he has encountered no difficulties.

"But the other, who has bridleways criss-crossing his land, has faced a £60,000 bill for theft and vandalism. Irrigation pumps have been slashed, tractors smashed and electric wires cut and stolen."

Christopher Spicer, who runs the Euston Estate, Suffolk, said many farmers were concerned they would face endless courts and inquiries over rights of way if further widescale access was granted.

Anthony Bosanquet, vice-chairman of the CLAs executive committee and a Welsh landowner, called for wider access through voluntary agreement rather than compulsory legislation, and stressed access was not a one-land management issue.

Mr Bosanquet called for more co-operation from local authorities in producing definitive maps of footpaths and bridleways, and more help from the police when faced with four-wheel drive vehicular use.

He stressed voluntary co-operation rather than confrontation with ramblers was the way forward, claiming the Countryside Stewardship and Tîr Cymen schemes had led to 40,000 ha (98,800 acres) of new access. &#42