"  The apparently conflicting advice' issued by DEFRA is the least of my concerns:
my main concern is the protection of our local community and economy, now and
for the future. 

I do not understand the observation with which you close
your letter, about trying to strike a fair balance in the interests of the
residents of Devon as a whole. 

The points that I am making are not for the
benefit of a sectional interest, but in the interest of the community as a
whole.  We, like most other local residents have chosen to live here because
of the rich countryside which depends on a pattern of small family farms and
small local businesses.  We enjoy walking in the countryside. "


 

 

Edward Chorlton
County Environment Director
Lucombe House
County Hall
Topsham Road
Exeter
Devon
EX2 4QW

Your ref:  CED F(49) ref 68

Dear Mr Chorley,

Re-opening of Public Rights of Way

I confirm my telephone conversation of 19th June with your Mr Johnson, in
which he told me that Mortehoe footpath 16 would be kept closed; but it was
proposed that Ilfracombe footpaths 24 and 34 would be opened.  I maintained
my objection to the opening of the latter paths and to the blanket reopening
of similar paths which pass through open fields where susceptible animals are
grazing.  I am surprised that you made no mention of this in your letter of
20th June nor do you make any response to the points which I made in my email
of 18th June; nor do you acknowledge my application to keep footpaths closed.
 You seem to have missed the essential points that I am making.  The
'apparently conflicting advice' issued by DEFRA is the least of my concerns:
my main concern is the protection of our local community and economy, now and
for the future.  I do not understand the observation with which you close
your letter, about trying to strike a fair balance in the interests of the
residents of Devon as a whole.  The points that I am making are not for the
benefit of a sectional interest, but in the interest of the community as a
whole.  We, like most other local residents have chosen to live here because
of the rich countryside which depends on a pattern of small family farms and
small local businesses.  We enjoy walking in the countryside.  Our farm earns
a major part of its income by selling our specialist local cheese to
visitors.  Most of our farming neighbours have 'diversified' into rural
business activities which depend on farming - like 'bed and breakfast',
selling cream teas, providing a Caravan Club 'approved location', etc.  We
share the same interests as the shopkeepers, hoteliers and publicans
residents and holiday visitors in Woolacombe and Ilfracombe, not to mention
Mortehoe and Lee.  We ourselves are desperate to have the restrictions
imposed on us lifted.  Our income for the last quarter was 25% of our income
in the same quarter last year.  In May we took #64.00.  We want to see the
countryside reopened: but if foot and mouth disease and more importantly the
draconian action with which our misguided government deals with it were to be
introduced into our locality, it would be a major disaster for everyone,
residents, businesses of all kinds (not only farming) and visitors.  To risk
this by allowing free, unregulated access to minor paths which are little
used and largely irrelevant to the enjoyment of the majority of the summer
visitors seems entirely wrongheaded.

I invite you to take note of the significance of the recent case of foot and
mouth disease at Bondleigh.  According to DEFRA advice, active disease was
found in a flock of sheep which were exhibiting no symptoms.  The flock was
being inspected regularly by DEFRA vets who had detected no symptoms - but
laboratory tests showed active and infectious disease.  DEFRA is currently
engaged in trying to kill the sheep on the neighbouring farms.  At least two
of these farms have been killed out; another is attempting to protect its
sheep.  An essential argument will be that these sheep have been segregated
from the infected flock by careful biosecurity measures.  If walkers had been
passing from flock to flock along a connecting path, this argument would be
undermined - and more importantly, the disease might have been passed between
the flocks.

Bondleigh is close enough to us for concern: but there are likely to be other
infected but undiagnosed flocks throughout the 'Infected area' (in which
Mortehoe and Ilfracombe are included).  Any of the local flocks could
currently be concealing infection like the one at Bondleigh - or could be
infected unknowingly by their keepers or, if the footpaths are opened
indiscriminately, by a walker with dirty boots.  It is practically impossible
to walk through a field of sheep without treading in fresh dung.  If the
paths which run from farm to farm through open fields are opened, a single
walker could spread the concealed infection from farm to farm.  For example,
a walker could tramp through the sheep on Higher Campscott, through my sheep,
through the cattle on Lower Campscott and then through the large herd of
dairy cattle on Whitestone farm.  If any of the sheep were to be carrying
concealed infection like those at Bondleigh, we could face an outbreak of
disease like that which occurred at Clayhanger.  The whole community,
including the tourist businesses in Ilfracombe and Woolacombe would be
devastated.

I suggest that a more prudent course of action would be to identify paths
that do not pass through open fields, or that can be diverted or temporarily
fenced where they pass through small parts of open fields.  These could be
reopened without such dire risk.  Possible examples locally are the Old
Railway, the bridle path which runs past the Mullacott Veterinary Hospital
and perhaps with some modification, the beautiful woodland path which runs
down the Borough valley.  There may also be farmers who can agree to keep
stock out of fields where important paths cross them.  You could implement a
strategic policy of opening paths where the benefit is high and the risk
avoidable; but to open indiscriminately the little used minor paths which run
from farm to farm through open fields seems to introduce a risk truly
disproportionate to the benefits.  To invite the permanent destruction of
businesses like ours (I refer you to my description in my email of 18/6/01)
and those of our neighbours by such an unnecessary action would seem insane.

I have read the guidelines which you enclosed with your letter of 20th June. 
I take note that they are guidelines and recommendations, not mandatory
instructions and that they were issued on 23rd May.  At that time, the
incidence of cases in Devon seemed to be dwindling.  Since then, we have had,
among others, the cluster of cases in the previously unaffected area around
Clayhanger; and the worrying case at Bondleigh.  The Secretary of State at
the new Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Margaret Beckett,
made a statement to the House of Commons on 21 June, in which she emphasised
the vital importance of maintaining high standards of biosecurity on and
around farms.

The DEFRA website reports that "Setting out the Government's continuing
response to the Foot and Mouth outbreak to the new House of Commons, she
advised that epidemiological evidence suggests cases will continue to occur
for some time yet. To bring the disease to an end as quickly as possible, it
remains hugely important that no one relaxes their guard."

She is reported as stating that "As part of our strategy for wider rural
recovery we want to see footpaths and other rights of way re-opened" but
qualifying this by "wherever it is safe to do so." 

In paragraph 20 of the report of the statement posted on the DEFRA FMD
website, she indicates that the continued closure of selected paths is
expected and that closures of this sort may be made outside the 3 km zones
around infected premises - and that blanket closures may also be made:

 "We would keep in place local authority powers to close paths selectively
where necessary - mainly of course within 3 km of infected premises - and we
will listen to representations from local authorities and others who may wish
to retain blanket closures in particular areas affected by disease."

I implore you to exercise the powers which the Secretary of State offers when
you decide which paths are to be reopened - and to act with prudence, opening
only paths which have been selected as risk free.

I maintain my objections to the shortness of notice and short time allowed
for objections.  There was no guarantee that a letter sent by second class
post on 14th June would have arrived by 19th June and the Devon website was
closed over the weekend of 16th and 17th June.  Why was it necessary to act
so precipitately in a matter which is not of overriding urgency?  It would
seem more important to consult those intimately affected by the opening of
these rights of way than the institutions, particularly DEFRA and the NFU,
which have shown no regard whatsoever for the safeguarding of our rural
community and are responsible for the closure of the countryside and the
destruction of so many of our farms.

Yours sincerely,

Lawrence Wright