Jacob Anthony: Vital we remember farms aren’t playgrounds

I’m usually quite an upbeat character who tries to see everything with a “glass half-full” attitude.

But I’m becoming extremely fed up and frustrated by the constant battle that we farmers face when it comes to public rights of way across our land.

I have no issues with walkers that stick to designated footpaths.

In fact, I often find myself stopping to have a chat with them, either passing the time of day or giving them a little bit of an insight into what we do here on the farm.

Manners cost nothing, and it is always good to positively engage with the public whenever possible.

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But I do have a major issue with current trend to upgrade footpaths to bridleways, byways and cycle paths. This seems to be occurring across the country on privately owned, working farmland.

There are a number of concerns I have about these proposals. And I can speak about them from a personal point of view, as we find ourselves immersed in a legal battle of having a footpath upgraded into a restricted byway.

Easy access for crooks

Applications for footpath upgrades to local councils seem to be snowballing, which is very worrying.

There are several points that farmers, our unions and other industry representatives need to make sure that are emphasised.

First, these applications cost local authorities tens of thousands of pounds to deal with – at a time where they are already operating on very limited budgets.

There are far more pressing concerns that our councils should be prioritising.

Another concern for farmers, especially as business owners, is security – where a byway is put in place, for example.

Cases of farm thefts continue to rise, so this public access will only help fuel criminal activity on farmland.

These public rights of way place us in a very vulnerable position. The result is us having no control over who can access our property using vehicles. 

Many people seem to forget that the land we farm is our factory floor, and that we are operating a business.

Putting these upgraded public rights of way in place will inevitably mean an increase in individuals encroaching on productive farmland.

Footpath safety concerns

This has only ever proved a minor issue with footpaths, but there is a major difference between a pair of size 9 hiking boots and four rubber tyres.

While all of what I argue to this point is very important, to me the most fundamental issue of upgrading public rights of ways is the safety implications.

It’s all well and good having bridleways – but through the middle of working farms?

That scenario potentially poses a real risk to both horse and rider. Tractors, quad bikes and cattle are just a few of the on-farm hazards.

Hundreds of people have lost their lives on farms in the UK during the past decade.

This is a very sobering thought, and one that needs serious consideration by those in power when it comes to upgrading and opening up more public rights of way.

It is vital that we all remember that farms are not playgrounds.