Coronavirus: Protect at-risk farmers after lockdown, says NFU

Farm leaders have reminded the public of their responsibilities in the countryside with the government set to review the lockdown restrictions.

Boris Johnson will address the nation on Sunday 10 May to outline steps for the next stage of the lockdown, which has been in place since 24 March.

The prime minister has suggested some measures could be eased from Monday, and the “stay at home” message is expected to be amended. But any decisions would be made with “maximum caution”.

See also: All our Coronavirus articles

NFU deputy president and farmer Stuart Roberts has asked the public to minimise the chance of transmitting coronavirus to farmers at higher risk, and to be aware that many areas they are walking in are working environments.

Freedom to exercise more than once a day and a loosening of travel restrictions are believed to be under consideration, which could see more people take the chance to get out the house and into the countryside.

Minimise infection risk

Mr Roberts told Farmers Weekly: “When you open a gate or climb over a stile, please use a pair of gloves. This is not about you catching the virus, it is about making sure it doesn’t get passed on.

“Please use temporary permissive paths that farmers may have put in place, if the footpath runs through their garden or yard.”

Mr Roberts said there had been examples during the lockdown of people not being responsible by straying from footpaths, leaving litter and dog waste, and not having dogs on a lead near livestock.

In one example last month, Farmers Weekly spoke to a farmer who found a family having a picnic on private land.

Mr Roberts added: “Lambing is ongoing, and this is the biggest consideration people need to make when they are out exercising.

“We are also preparing for silage-making, and this is where dog mess can be a real problem and an animal health issue [when silage is used for feed].”

The farmer said there is huge benefit for people to see where their food comes from and to enjoy the countryside, but it must be done in a responsible way, especially with the threat of coronavirus.

Advice for land managers

  • Keeping paths clear and waymarks and signs up to date will help people stick to the right routes and access points. Contact your local authority or National Park Authority to find out what help is available
  • Where there is public access through a boundary feature, such as a fence or hedge, create a gap if you can – or use an accessible gate or, if absolutely necessary, a stile. When installing completely new gates and stiles, make sure you have the permission of the local authority
  • Encourage people to respect your wishes by giving clear, polite guidance where it is needed. For example, telling visitors about your land management work helps them to avoid getting in your way

Source: The Countryside Code

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association, asked people to be vigilant and aware of the farm work at a busy time of year for the industry.

He said: “Farmers are turning their livestock out and working with large machinery in farmyards and fields.

“It’s important to remember that the countryside is a working environment, with farmers producing the country’s food.”

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