Opinion: And the farmer’s Shrek Award goes to…

I’ve never been to the Farmers Weekly Awards night. I’m told that it’s a long evening of legendary debauchery and outrageousness – and I’m a quiet-night-in type of person. I got slippers for Christmas.

I could be persuaded to go if the organisers got on and booked our band, the Thomas Lord Old Gits, to provide three hours of classic hits. But I’d also go if a new award was introduced: the Shrek Award.

Shrek, the hero of the best children’s film of the past 20 years, found his home swamp full of unwanted guests, and was forced to take drastic action to be rid of them.

The Shrek Award would therefore go to the farmer who has been forced to do the same thing.

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The trouble is, the winner of the award is already known. There’s no competition. Step forward the new hero of the farming community: Alan Brunt, who got so fed up with walkers, their dogs, and the dogs’ deposits, that he erected a 300m long, 6ft high industrial fence to keep the walkers to the footpath.

Now, I bet every farmer’s reaction to this story was exactly the same as mine. A millisecond of “Ohh, how terrible, think of farming’s image, what an eyesore etc, etc…” followed by a huge cry of “Yeeeees! Good on you, Alan!” Let’s be honest – Mr Brunt has done exactly what every farmer would love to do with every right of way.

Take Springshott, for instance. It’s our biggest pasture – 65 acres – and is crossed north-south by the Wayfarer’s Walk. But this spring, a rumour spread round the nearby parishes that Springshott was now open access.

And as Mark Twain nearly said, a rumour is twice round the world before truth gets its boots on. Scarcely a day went by without having to exchange the politest of words with locals enjoying a picnic/dog walk/open-air frolics in the freshly scarified and slotted grass.

But there’s nothing we can do. Hadn’t we heard of Right to Roam? It’s National Trust land. You can go within 50 yards of a footpath if you want – this last one from an indignant ex-magistrate. “This is England – a free country!” cried one lost soul. There’s no reasoning with the good people of central Hampshire.

Mr Brunt has decided that reasoning is pointless – hence his fence’s magnificence. The question I ask myself after yet another unsuccessful attempt to point out the basics of rights of way to some minor ennobled local is this: Should we be doing the same thing? It’ll be pricey in materials – and then there’s the remapping and re-registering of fields.

The landlord will hate it – but they’ve exhibited some weapons-grade procrastination after promising some authoritative National Trust-branded signs asking people to keep to the footpath. Tragic recent events involving cattle and walkers will help the cause.

Some years ago we “corridored” the Back Meadow’s bridleway – and the riders were grateful for keeping the nosy cattle away. It isn’t often that we can relish playing the health and safety card. And the scary results of dog faeces in forage – something I confess I’ve only recently heard of – will also add weight to our plans.

It won’t be done in time for this year’s awards – so Mr Brunt will walk off with the Shrek Award unchallenged and to deafening applause. That leaves me free to warm up with the Thomas Lord Old Gits – assuming the organisers get their act together and book us. Have they lost my number? Again?

Charlie Flindt is a tenant of the National Trust, farming 380ha at Hinton Ampner, Hampshire.

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