Business Clinic: How to avoid boundary disputes when fencing

Whether you have a legal, tax, insurance, management or land issue, Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts can help. Chris Anderson, a Carter Jonas associate partner, tackles the rules and conventions on boundary fences and sheds more light on the government’s Bounce Back loan scheme.

Q. I’m a struggling small farmer. My sheep fencing is rotting and desperately needs replacing. I try to save money and then do a length of fencing but am finding it very difficult to save.

Contractors want to do longer stretches of fence and not what I could afford in bits now and again.

I understand there are some bounce back loans at a low interest rate. Are they worth having? Can I get any other help? I do get subsidy but it gets spent on maintaining the land.

Separately, when I bought part of an adjoining field some time ago, I agreed to be responsible for the stockproof fencing which is what now needs replacing. Which side of the fence should the posts be positioned?

Regarding the fencing, I presume that the responsibility for the boundary is clearly noted in the recent conveyance and Land Registry title documents, in which case the construction of the fence is of less concern.

However, it is convention that the posts are positioned on the owner’s side of the fence, and the fence itself positioned immediately adjacent to the boundary, so as not to encroach on your neighbour’s land.

However, when dealing with lengths of stock fencing, pin-point accuracy may be of less importance than with residential fencing.

See also: Browse the business clinic archive

It is good practice and a sensible precaution to inform your neighbour that you are carrying out the work and ensure no disagreement is raised as to the location of the fence.

It is prudent to ensure that parties to a boundary understand the ownership position, and ideally that it is recorded in writing (either in the conveyance or separate boundary agreement).

Such documentation often does not exist when dealing with land boundaries and so common law (law created through decisions of the courts) has built up surrounding this issue.

As a result of court decisions relating to property boundaries, presumptions can be made as to the legal position of boundaries where there is no evidence opposing them, with the hedge and ditch presumption being one that often affects farmland.

The role of convention

The position of the posts on fencing can help denote the ownership of the boundary by virtue of convention, but actions of the parties over the years, such as who spent time, effort and money erecting and maintaining the fence, are also important. In the absence of any agreement, the cost of maintenance is usually shared equally between the adjoining owners.

You may wish to consult an agent or solicitor if you are uncertain as to the ownership of boundaries. I’d suggest one that is experienced in any peculiarities of your local area.

With regard to the cost of fencing, larger contractors will naturally err towards larger and more lucrative contracts.

Ask around – there may be someone looking for fencing experience who will charge less just to be given the opportunity, and may carry out smaller sections.

Regarding finance, bounce back loans have recently been issued by the government due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The headline rates and figures seem appealing, but payback periods can be relatively short – although it may assist you in the immediate term.

Longer-term funding

Alternatively, funding for agricultural businesses is well-established, with institutions such as the Agricultural Mortgage Corporation and others focusing solely on farming businesses, and high street banks having agricultural divisions.

These lenders may have a better understanding of farming activity and the specific issues faced, and may be able to provide more suitable longer-term funding.

It is an unsettling time and there are no easy answers for a small, cash-poor business with limited scope to significantly increase turnover and profit.

However, if you are committed to the business and prepared to accept its limitations in favour of the lifestyle you want, then managing your cash, saving wherever you can and exploiting grants and funding will be an important part of your business plan.

Fencing can form part of stewardship schemes under certain circumstances, so they may be of interest.

The gradual reduction of BPS direct payments over the next seven years (timings liable to change) and the Agriculture Bill passing through parliament will have a major impact on farming and the rural sector.

Friends, family, neighbours, support organisations, charities and paid advisers can all help you objectively discuss and critically analyse the options, including some that may be outside your comfort zone, and decide which route you wish to take.

Chris Anderson is an associate partner, rural, at Carter Jonas

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