Opinion: ‘Brace’ offers solution to field-splitting fence conundrum

Design Pics Inc/REX/Shutterstock

Design Pics Inc/REX/Shutterstock

There was an interesting run of letters in The Times just before Christmas.

It was in response to the news that the HSE’s agricultural industry advisory committee were advising farmers to put up “protected walkways” in fields where cattle – now officially Britain’s most dangerous large animal – were grazing.

An NFU spokesman was quoted as saying – and you could almost hear him sighing and shrugging his shoulders as he simply spoke the truth: “People don’t understand animal behaviour.”

The letters, including one from me, were from ramblers and farmers, and were remarkable in that we all agreed what a good idea “protected walkways” would be. The walkers wanted protection for themselves and their dogs from our livestock; and we wanted protection for our livestock from walkers and their dogs.

We all agreed that a simple physical barrier on both sides of a right of way would be to everyone’s benefit.

So what’s stopping us? Well, even if we ignore the fact that my shoulders probably aren’t up to wielding a heavy maul all day for several weeks, there’s the cost – but I’m sure we could wangle a public liability insurance discount. The militant wayward locals (or their au pairs) would shout a bit, but that wouldn’t make much of a change.

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The problem is simple: the days of popping out into the pasture and simply erecting a fence are gone. Fencing is like most modern farming activities; someone, somewhere needs to know what you’ve done. His or her very job depends on it.

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

If we were to bite the bullet and double-fence the footpath that crosses the two pastures opposite our farmhouse, we would be creating five new fields – one in each corner, and the one long thin one that would be the actual Right of Way. Now the fun would start.

Five new fields would mean five new field numbers and acreages. I could do the field numbers, but the acreages would be down to the ‘Custard Corduroy Brigade’.

There would be even more forms to fill in, and maps to be drawn up, areas to be checked by satellite, and then re-checked, and then questioned. And if there’s one way to make sure your Basic Payment Scheme is right at the bottom of the RPA’s file, it is by submitting a mapping query.

So for now, the almost daily battle between us as livestock keepers and the walking general public will have to continue.

“Please keep to the footpath, Sir.”

“We can’t – it’s too dangerous. There are cattle in the middle of the field….”           

There is a simple solution. I was recently poring over the 1909 1:2500 scale OS map of the farm (I really should get out more) and noticed that some fences and boundaries had a little squiggle across them. Each squiggle looked like this: ʃ.

According to the legend, this is a “brace”, and a brace’s significance is nicely explained in beautiful turn-of-the-last-century style. “Braces indicate that the spaces so connected are included in the same reference number and area.”

In other, more modern, words, it shows a boundary of some sort that isn’t actually a boundary. It doesn’t cut an area in two, it just crosses it.

It’s time to bring back braces. Let’s reintroduce cartographically insignificant fence lines, and use them to keep everyone and everything safe: cattle, sheep and walkers.

The bureaucrats might not be happy, but I think we could all live with that.

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