Fencing Out Paths – our take on the Somerset Path

A Somerset landowner has caused consternation because he has used 2 metre high metal palisade fencing each side of a footpath on his land.  The type of fencing looks something like this:

Crossing a meadow in one of the prettiest rural counties, it is plainly shocking to the eye.

Yet it should come as no surprise to those who have had any dealings with paths in the countryside.

The sad fact is that landowners are increasingly alarmed by the abuse of paths by some members of the public.  These relatively small numbers are spoiling it for all.  The problem is getting worse, not better, despite attempts to educate.  Sadly a lack of respect for the landowner and an insistence on public rights causes friction and what we see in Somerset is the result.

Responsible walkers rarely cause a problem.  It is the few people who do not stick to the path, spread out over grass that is to be cut for hay, do not shut gates, allow their dogs to foul the land and do not keep their dogs under control so stock are worried that cause the issues for the landowner.  Walkers have been injured (and, sadly, killed) by grazing animals that become alarmed or defensive of their young, with farmers facing criminal and civil legal action.

It is hardly surprising that physical separation becomes necessary in the mind of those trying to manage the land.

Attempts to divert paths to remove or reduce the conflict are often opposed through arguments that views will be lost, despite the benefits to the farmer.  In those situations, fencing off a path may be the final option.  Would the public prefer to keep a path and have it fenced in this manner, or work with a farmer to find a compromise?

The Somerset example may be extreme but that is because of the immediate visual impact.  A post and rail fence with sheep netting might look more “natural” and achieve the same result without the media interest.

Is it a surprise that someone might choose a method to fence out a path that detracts from the path’s setting?  Even if that was the direct intention, there is nothing to prevent this.  Provided no planning laws have been broken, and no path is obstructed, landowners are free to erect what they like to secure a physical barrier on their land.

On social media, someone asked how much this fence must have cost.  It’s a valid question but any investment will be balanced against the cost of lost hay crops, injured stock, prosecution and actions for negligence all carrying a considerable and potentially ongoing expense, and not least the daily management concern for a path that impacts on the land.

We work for landowners across England and Wales and few would wish to erect such barriers on their land.  We would not like to see this become the default solution for difficult paths.  However we understand why someone would do this and maybe it is sign that working with landowners is more likely to avoid this occurring than confronting their plans to change paths where there are identifiable benefits to the landowner.

It will be interesting to see if others follow this example.

You can read more about the Somerset path and see photographs here: Daily Mail

To talk about your land access and footpath issues contact us on 0203 086 7657 or email mw@etlandnet.co.uk.

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