Farmers and conservation groups are urging people to keep to the paths and to keep dogs under control when walking in the countryside. Livelihoods are at risk with one farmer losing the equivalent of 9,000 loaves of bread due to trampled crops.
The latest lockdown has coincided with a period of particularly high rainfall making paths extremely wet and muddy. This, combined with far greater numbers of people using their local paths, is damaging paths and crops. Paths have widened to several metres across, with people trying to social distance from each other, or people seeking drier ground to walk on.
The Chilterns countryside is providing much-needed solace and pleasure for people at a very difficult time. However, it is also a farmed landscape with many paths crossing farmers’ fields. The message from farmers is clear – please keep to the paths!
Georgia Craig at the NFU says, “Mud can’t be avoided at the moment, so your best bet is to put your wellies on and follow the signposted paths. People are welcome on the signposted rights of way but straying off those paths means crops will get trampled, affecting farmers businesses. At this time of year the crops might still be below the surface or look very similar to grass, but walking on them will compact and damage the growing plants”.
Daniel Hares, who farms at Buckmoorend Farm near Wendover, is one of the many Chilterns farmers affected. Walkers widened a path through one of his wheatfields to 10 metres across – the equivalent to losing six tonnes of wheat, enough to make around 9,000 loaves of bread.
Lacey’s Family Farm has always been popular with walkers but, like many farmers, they have experienced a big surge in numbers. Ed Lacey explains ‘We have on-going problems with people letting their dogs off the lead and out of control. We have had sheep killed and injured by dogs.’
The Chilterns Conservation Board’s Chief Executive, Dr Elaine King, said “The Chilterns are a place where people live and work, including the farmers that produce our food. We are working with a wide range of farmers, landowners and conservation partners to raise public awareness of this special landscape and ensure that everyone can enjoy the Chilterns safely”.
The Countryside Code sets out some simple guidance to ensure that people can enjoy their visit to the countryside while being safe and respectful of others www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code