Award-winning columnist and Shropshire-based producer Roger Evans shares his experience of ‘right to roam’ and tips on how to deal with uninvited visitors.
Slowly but surely people are starting to realise that there could be a change in government next year. A phrase I’ve seen frequently recently in the farming press is ‘right to roam’ and, should there be a change in government, this could easily move from being a concept to a reality. We have first-hand experience of this ‘right to roam’, so I will share it with you.
A couple of years ago, two men began wandering around our farm. But they didn’t just walk in the fields, they also got in among the cows when they were housed in the cubicle shed. We can be very laid back here, unless we are roused, so we didn’t challenge them. You could see that this lack of interest from us irked them somewhat and so they eventually volunteered the information that they were exercising their ‘right to roam’. We didn’t react and we didn’t tell them that there was no such thing, and so that irked them some more. They used to look into everything, particularly into the ditches, and the slurry lagoon was also a focus for special attention. They haven’t been here for about 12 months now and I think that they stopped coming for several reasons.
Firstly, I think that they were afraid of our cows. Our cows used to rub their heads against them or they used to give them a good licking. I think they found this quite scary and it probably didn’t fit the image that they had in their minds of exploited livestock. If livestock are treated cruelly they don’t approach you for a rub and a lick. I don’t think that they could get their heads around that.
Secondly, they couldn’t find anything ‘wrong’ on the farm, despite their best efforts. Our livestock is always well fed and looked after. If that hadn’t been the case I suspect that the first thing we would have known about it would have been a visit from the RSPCA. Likewise if the ‘right to roamers’ had found anything in a ditch or water course that shouldn’t be there, I think we would have had a visit from the Environment Agency.
The final reason they stopped coming, and probably the main one, was that there was no confrontation involved. I don’t know why, but I suspect this factor is most important to them. I reckon they had all their arguments and their clichés at the ready, but they didn’t need them. We didn’t tell them to go away or say ‘you can’t go there’, and I think that would have been a disappointment.
You cannot underestimate the importance of confrontation to people with empty lives. Unfortunately the countryside is full of people with nothing to do. A friend of mine was on a long car journey. He pulled into a large empty lay-by to take a drink from his flask, stretch his legs and probably have a pee in the hedge. He wasn’t on his own for long because about 20 other cars pulled in. The occupants jumped out and proceeded to put on walking boots and anoraks. Eventually one of them climbed onto the bank and started to make a speech. My friend strolled across to listen (be nosy). He was just in time to hear the man say: “Remember that we are the eyes and ears of the countryside. If you find a farmer doing something wrong, take a photo and we’ll report it.”