Wednesday, 1 June 2011


This time of the year we have very mixed feelings about walkers on our farm in spite of the fact that a footpath runs along the side of the beck right through our land.
At other times of the year it doesn't matter at all and it is nice to be out in the fields and meet people to chat to on the footpath.

The farmer himself is a keen walker and goes walking with a group of friends every other Sunday throughout the Summer, taking turns to lead the walks. I used to go too before the days of a dodgy knee. Now that I don't go I do like to quote from that excellent book by Roger Deakin - Notes from Walnut Tree Farm - "The great thing about walking is that it gives you complete licence to get into fancy dress and eat junk food."

But I digress - back to walking on the farm. First of all our pastures are full of young cattle. Now the dairy herds are fine - they are used to people and they are usually intent on filling up with grass and then lying down to chew the cud. But the youg stock - in our case always heifers - are inquisitive and frisky. So if walkers come through with dogs (and most of them do) the heifers come flying down the field to see who it is. This can be very scary for the walkers and indeed it is not all that unusual for people to be injured or even killed by cattle. The best advice is to let the dog off the lead (it is the dog that the cattle are interested in), walking purposefully towards the next stile and ignore the cattle or even turn to face them, when they will usually stop or at least back off a bit. But the other day we noticed a man in our neighbour's field waving his arms and shouting at a group of young in-calf heifers which was just making them worse. In the end the man climbed the wall to get out of the way.

But there is another reason that walkers are not good this time of the year. This morning the farmer begins the annual cut for silage. Yesterday he got the cutter out of the implement shed and gave it a bit of a sharpen and clean up. This morning it stands in the yard ready to go and in about an hour, when the dew has gone from the grass, he will begin to cut it for silage. Hopefully it will all be standing up straight and all will be caught by the cutter. But sometimes walkers feel it is fine to leave the footpath and cut off diagonallly across a silage field to reach the lane. They let their dogs off the lead to gambol in the grass. All this flattens the grass down and makes cutting difficult if not impossible in some parts of the field.

The first cut is always the most nutritious; this year it will not be very plentiful because of the dry weather, but spare a thought for farmers in Essex and Kent where the fields are so dry that they are cracked, the grass has turned brown and silaging is impossible, which means that winter feed will be short and food prices will rise.

Farming is not straightforward - there will always be up years and down years. I suppose when compared with Third World countries we still have it made but our existence is never trouble-free.


BilboWaggins said...

You have my sympathies. I consider myself a "walker" - it's one of the reasons we moved to the Lake District - but I never lose sight of the fact that I am walking across someone's land. The field or fell I am striding across belongs to someone, it is their livelihood.

More signage perhaps? Laminated A4 that you can take down when the worst of the summer droves have gone?

It is likely that most of your visitors come from towns and have no conception of how to behave but whether their actions are ignorance, stupidity or just bad manners, if the heifers trample someone it will be YOU who gets it in the neck.

Tom Stephenson said...

I have to admit that I am scared of cattle (and any other animal that is bigger than me) so I avoid walking through fields of them.

Food prices are set to double in the next ten years, and the real cost of a pound of rice to a poor Indian is about £10 - I think that speculation of food as a commodity should be internationally outlawed.

steven said...

i'll echo some of bilbowaggins' comment. there is so much that a walker could know but often doesn't making them a liability under circumstances such as those you detail here. perhaps a more aggressive amount and quality of signage would help, or some form of pamphlet support from the walker's groups. it still amazes people from north america when i detail walker's rights in england! steven

Gerry Snape said...

Pat this is a really good post as so many of us love to walk in the countryside. also the comment about the real price of food needs to be said. this scare in germany and spain really brings the whole thing into the front pages. I feel for the spanish farmers also without water.

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

I am always conflicted about property rights and 'trespassing'. Some part of me feels the land belongs to everyone - and yet when I find people wandering on our property enjoying the brook and the gardens (as happens now and then) I notice myself wondering how I can get them to leave without being rude. I think it is more about enjoying my privacy than about land ownership. Maybe I need a couple of heifers to chase them away when I want to sit alone by the brook!

Grizz………… said...

Frankly, I envy you and your country for its willingness to keep the old footpaths open and allow walkers that limited access to the land. Here in the states, most rural landowners "post" their property with NO TRESPASSING signs and guard the perimeter as if a treasure in gold and diamonds was simply scattered loose on the surface, available for the trespasser's plucking. I tend to believe that large tracts of land (as opposed to, say, the dooryard around a home) should not be closed off—though I also understand the need to protect crops and livestock. Your open footpaths provide a reasonable compromise.

That said…I can always feel my selfish proprietorship gene kick in whenever I see a fisherman wading "my" hundred-yard stretch of river. Then remember all those miles of streams I've waded to fish over the years, most of which flowed through private property—and so, unless there is some sort of rowdy behavior involved, I tell them they're welcome and mean it.

In the end, I guess I feel that land and streams essentially belong to everyone, with "owners" less privative lords and more rightly trusted stewards—with the point that sharing and good stewardship are not mutually exclusive.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Your comments are so interesting - it does seem that we are broadly in agreement. Grizz in particular, from the US, gives a new perspective to it all. Thank you for such thoughtful replies.

The Weaver of Grass said...

Bilbo - I am totally unable to get on to your site - I have tried all ways and they are blocked.

Crafty Green Poet said...

As a walker I always waskl round the field margin if walking in farmland.

I once had a short contract with the RSPB which involved surveying meadow flowers in a field full of young Belted Galloway cattle - they took a great interest in my research....

Pomona said...

Here in Kent the grass verges and lawns have an August look - the whole situation is very worrying. Luckily we have irrigation for onions, potatoes and hops (although of course the water has a cost), but I pity wheat farmers. There is certainly going to be a shortage of straw as in so many places the wheat was in ear before it was very tall.

Pomona x

Heather said...

It always surprises me that some of the people who love walking in the countryside can be so ignorant and unaware of the damage they do. They seem to think that every inch of countryside is there for them, and forget that a lot of it is privately owned by people trying to make a living from it under very difficult conditions at times, yet willing to share it and hoping in vain for a little consideration.

BilboWaggins said...

Pat, have emailed you directly. Let me know if you don't receive it.

BilboWaggins said...

Heather is so right and sadly ignorance is a major problem.

Nearby we know some people who are ardent fellwalkers and "say" they completely support the Lake District [ie: rural] way of life. They are also staunch vegetarians because they say animal welfare standards are atrocious and farmers don't care about their stock (don't get me started on THAT one ...)

They cannot [will not?] see that without sheep grazing the high fells the land would be completely covered with gorse, heather and other scrub and the lovely grassy fells they like to walk over would not be there. If there was not a market for the meat the sheep would not be there.

Acornmoon said...

So much good sense here! We are so lucky to be able to walk though farm land. I hope I have never been guilty of trampling crops but I don't think many walkers understand the finer points of silage cutting. We all know about sheep worrying but not too much about young cattle stock. They can be very dangerous just because they are so heavy and a little clumsy.

Titus said...

Good post Weaver, sometimes it feels like you live in the same village so many of your concerns are the same as the ones round here!
As for the dry weather down south - and in mainland Europe - just terrible for both pastoral and arable farmers. Higher prices for all of us too, and the world food situation is of serious concern. One in seven, I think, go hungry, when as a whole world we are actually producing enough. Oh, borders and business!

angryparsnip said...

So interesting...
the walking trails across peoples farms always intrigues me. I was always very careful to walk on the trail the few times I walked across someones land.
In America people will sue the land owner if they get hurt while on the property, even when the property is posted no trespass. Heifers are just a accident waiting to happen with a big payout. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it ?
Post a sign it might help.

cheers, parsnip

MarmaladeRose said...

I agree with BilboWaggins, I must admit as a former towny myself, alot of people simply won't have any idea of the damage they are causing or how precious all that lush grass is. Maybe a short explanation on that laminate would politely inform.

The applique street is still on the card but the owner of the sweet shop started questioning copyright laws so I've had to look into that. Also I've just completed a range of greetings cards made for Milkchurn cottage. Also finally completed a felted and embroidered wall hanging commissioned about 10months ago, lol. Very busy!

Keep us informed about your broody hen.

Cloudia said...

Great English Walking!

Aloha from Honolulu

Comfort Spiral




Dave King said...

I can remember my brother as a small boy running up to cattle, he said to pat them. One lumbered towards him and he suddenly turned tail and ran for his life!

What percentage of townies would you say don't know the country code?

The Weaver of Grass said...

Thank you - between you you have made some interesting points. Interesting too that the position is totally different in the US regarding cattle in the fields.
If we stopped putting cattle in our fields where there is a footpath, we would have nowhere to put them.

Food for thought from you all, as usual.