'Please respect the countryside:' Row over lockdown exercise

female farmer in tractor cab

Katherine Cross, a farmer who is politely asking members of the public to stick to public footpaths. - Credit: supplied

Farmers in East Anglia have hit out at people damaging crops by straying off public footpaths that go across their fields.

With more people walking in the countryside to get their daily exercise in lockdown, farmers are reporting crops being trampled on as people veer off footpaths, particularly if they're muddy.

muddy field

Miss Cross' family field of wheat where people had strayed off the path. - Credit: supplied

One farmer, Katherine Cross, who works for her father Richard, with the family business managing 850 acres near Bury St Edmunds, posted on Twitter a photograph showing wheat trampled by members of the public. "I'm very saddened that walkers can't stick to the bridleway...people can still exercise locally by sticking to the path and not trample on crops.

"Walkers should learn some respect for the countryside and people's crops. There are plenty of grass margins on our farm for wildlife away from footpaths and people. This wheat goes into biscuits so we are growing food for people to eat." 

Miss Cross, whose family farm is based at Ixworth, said: "I think it's a mix of people who don't understand and others who don't care." She has started putting up polite notices although said when this has been done before, people either stole them or threw them into ditches.

signs for farmers

The NFU signs for farmers politely asking the public to keep to footpaths. - Credit: Katherine Cross

The NFU, National Farmers Union, rallied and put out advice on the matter. Deputy president Stuart Roberts said: "It's great to see people enjoying the countryside..but please do so responsibly and stay on the path itself not the crops."

John Newton, the NFU's county adviser for Norfolk, said he thought people were so preoccupied with Covid, they weren't watching where they were going when in the countryside. "People have a lot of other issues on their minds. Some may think at this time of year there is nothing in the field. But people need to have respect that the countryside is someone's workplace and crops do get damaged."

muddy footpath and field

The muddy field showing people had walked over the crop and not adhered to the footpath. - Credit: supplied

He said the NFU had produced polite notices available to farmers. These read: "It's great you're enjoying the great British farmed landscape...we know walking in the countryside is providing welcome relief for many right now; let's work together.'