The Irish Natura & Hill Farmers Association have outlined preliminary results from a survey the association is currently conducting with their membership on public access. The survey has highlighted the vulnerable position many landowners are in when it comes to dealing with members of the public looking to access their lands.
Speaking on the preliminary results from early replies National Vice President Pheilim Molloy addressed the comments made in response to two specific questions. These questions asked if farmers ever received abuse from someone wishing to access their lands and if they ever felt threatened by leisure users on their land.
“While the majority of farmers (59%) have not received abuse, with (62%) indicating that they have never actually felt threatened, we are still very concerned that a sizable minority have been abused and felt threatened” stated Molloy. When we examine the detail in the comments it is, he continued “even more shocking what farmers and landowners are having to deal with.”
Colourful language and aggressive behaviour are, he cautioned “quite normal from walkers when asked to not bring their dogs, with farmers often told in no uncertain terms that their dog would not bother sheep and to mind their own business.”
Even more concerning stated the INHFA Leader “are the clear threats made against farmers.” Here we have seen a farmer that challenged a group who had dogs without leads being told “that they would do it again and take care of any locals that tried to stop them.” On another occasion a farmer after being told where to go by a group was also informed that “they’re going home for a gun to shoot my cattle and a knife to gut me like a fish.”
Another issue that featured quite prominently in the comments were thrill seekers with off-road vehicles such as scrambler bikes, quads and all terrain 4×4’s. These people stressed Molloy “see hill land as their playground and are quite willing to smash gates, tear down fences and destroy pathways with no regard for the landowners or the habitats these farmers are trying to protect.”
Concerns around hunting and wild-camping were also highlighted with one respondent stating how there were “three men camping on commonage lands with a high-powered rifle mounted on a tripod that was obviously being used for target practice.” Another respondent outlined their fear of facing “six lads with dogs and a gun” while on their own. “While accepting that the vast majority of those that walk our hills and engage in leisure activity are not involved in threatening and bullish behavior there is an undercurrent of thuggish behavior that needs to be addressed” maintained Molloy.
In concluding, the INHFA Vice President outlined how the survey has been conducted to provide us with a clear understanding and the issues we need to address as we develop a policy paper on public access. This paper he stated “will be issued in the very near future.”