Countryside must be treated with respect as lockdown footpath use soars
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Countryside footpaths are attracting unprecedented visitor numbers as lockdown restrictions are eased, but they must be used with respect for the farmers who provide them, says TOM CORFIELD, agricultural partner at Arnolds Keys – Irelands Agricultural.
The role played by the UK’s farmers in keeping us all fed during the Covid-19 crisis is now well understood.
It was just two months ago that many people were panic-buying food and stockpiling provisions, anxious that the food supply chain wouldn’t be able to cope.
One silver lining to this crisis could be that the public finally realise how important food security is. This should translate into a re-think on future agricultural policy to ensure we have a stable, self-sufficient food supply.
But that is not the only aspect of farming which has come more sharply into the public focus over the past nine weeks. For many, the highlight of the lockdown day has been the opportunity to take daily exercise, and we have seen a huge increase in the general public accessing the countryside and making use of the miles and miles of footpaths that provide access to it.
With gyms and other leisure facilities closed, many people are discovering the benefits of being able to get out into Norfolk’s rural areas: mental wellbeing and a welcome release from anxiety, the pressures of a day working from home, or home-schooling children.
It is to be hoped that this will lead to a greater appreciation for the farmers who provide those footpaths, keep them clear, and maintain them for the public to use.
Footpaths come in two forms. The first are footpaths recorded by the landowner via a Section 31(6) declaration made under the Highways Act 1980, which is then registered with the county council on their Definitive Map. The second are permissive paths, provided by the landowner at their goodwill (and which can be removed by the landowner at their discretion).
Our rural communities have perhaps never seen such high numbers of people using the footpaths. The majority are respectful and considerate; however, it is unfortunate to see cases where these paths are abused, with gates left open, litter dropped and even camping overnight. It may be time for a publicity campaign to remind people of the Countryside Code, a set of “rules” for visitors to rural and agricultural regions.
Alongside this must come a campaign to educate people just how important farming is for both ensuring that the British people have enough to eat, but also its role in providing access to the countryside.
People who are using the countryside as a leisure facility are welcome – but they need to understand the balance that needs to be struck between ensuring a secure food supply and being environmental guardians.
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