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Farmer Focus: Wet weather makes footpaths hard to manage

As the rain continues to hit saturated ground, conditions under foot really are atrocious.

This is not good for crop walking, sheep grazing cover crops, livery clients turning their horses out or local neighbours wanting to get some outdoor exercise in the countryside to get relief from lockdown.

There has been much talk about footpath users getting the appropriate footwear to walk in mud instead of making footpath tracks ever wider as they seek a slightly easier route where there is a bit of vegetation to get a grip on.

I must say that I have sympathy with the footpath users. On our London clay it is quite a feat to remain upright on a wet and muddy track that hundreds of feet have travelled on, no matter how good your boots are. If you can find a bit of grass to walk on it is so much easier.

Now obviously, it is unfortunate if you have a footpath next to a crop, because the width of the path could grow at the expense of your crop.

I think the NFU’s free signs that can be downloaded and printed to remind walkers to stay on the right route are exceptionally good. The wording is welcoming and understanding, while at the same time reminding people of the damage they may be causing.

When we recently moved our ewes from one field of cover crops to another, we did the usual thing of taking the fence down around them and moving it to the next field.

This temporarily leaves the sheep free to roam, and it is my job, with my dog, Abby, to keep the ewes from straying.

This time, I got a bit distracted and the sheep made their way to our neighbour’s pristine parkland grass, until Abby and I brought them back.

I phoned the neighbour to apologise, and he was very understanding: “I don’t mind, really, as long as they leave it in stripes,” he said.

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