Countryside and Right of Way Act

We held at meeting at out local pub last Friday re the above act. It was attended by well over a hundred people, all variously affected by this legislation. From one old chap with a half acre garden to larger mixed farms, whose yards and buildings as well as fields are included. Very few people had been formally notified that their land had been reclassified - only registered holdings. Mine came in an envelope with a notice re IACS payments. As I don't qualify for IACS I nearly binned it.

People cannot understand why the original publicity re this Bill stated 'mountain, moor, heath and common land' when small fields and yards have been included. After discussion, we realised that they had included at least one part of each holding, whether it complied with Open Country or not, causing fears of nationalisation - which had not previously occurred to me.

One of my neighbours has been studying the Act for two years now, and is a fund of information. One of the casualties is going to be wild flower meadows, as apparently these are not classified as Improved Land. The Countryside Agency is vague about Semi-Improved Land (thereby leaving them with a catch-all situation). There is a Catch 22 situation - if you want to keep the public off your hay meadows it must be Improved Land (drained, ploughed, seeded and fertilised) and recognised as such by the Countryside Agency. If you leave your beloved wild flower meadow untouched the public can trample all over it, and obviously this will be during a few sunny days in June when you were about to cut it. How many farms can get by without a hay crop?

Another casualty could be male animals, who could now spend most of their life penned up. The Countryside Agency are ambiguous about this - there is conflicting information. We do not know who will be liable if someone is injured. I can vouch for the accuracy of my friend's Soay tup - right behind the knees, so that you crash over and drop any food you're carrying. Should make for entertaining weekends.

It was decided that we should all write to our MP and the papers. The only paper really interested in this is the Telegraph, and one of our neighbours has had a letter published. I have written several letters to our MP (animal rights, left wing), and I am papering the front bedroom with her standard 'your comments have been noted' replies. We are, however, going to ask her to an informal meeting. I don' t hold out much hope.

I printed a leaflet asking people to write to the Countryside Agency asking for details of their 'pre-Mapping Publicity' in this area. There wasn't any, as far as I can see.

An important point was made - apparently anyone can ask to have your land classified as Open Country - they do not have to have a legal interest in it. If it is so classified, YOU WILL NOT BE NOTIFIED, and so will lose your chance to appeal.

It is ironic that the meeting was chaired by Geoff Boswell, who is a well-known walker and author of several best-selling books about walking in the South Pennines. Far from being one of the 'opposition' , he is concerned about the effect on the countryside and that fact that some farmers who have previously been generous with the use of their land, and have helped to keep footpaths and bridleways open, are now becoming antagonistic to any sort of access. The owners of the pub where the meeting was held are fed up with walkers and rock-climbers using their car park for free (try finding free parking in a town), not buying any food or a drink, and preventing bona fide customers from parking.

Geoff Boswell kindly took some people's details, so that he could lodge their objections on his computer on line. Hopefully, everyone WILL write to our MP and the Countryside Agency and newspapers. It must be the first time so many locals have been in agreement about anything!