The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) have met with the Ulster Federation of Rambling Clubs (UFRC) and WalkNI’s parent company Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland (ORNI), to reflect on the increased number of people who have been visiting the countryside during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
UFU deputy president David Brown said, “We have had two very positive meetings with UFRC and ORNI, about how we can work together to protect our NI landscape and promote responsible behaviour in the countryside.
“In some cases, people may have discovered the beauty of their local countryside and what it has to offer for the first time, and we anticipate that many will continue to use the countryside as a place for leisure and recreation. Our farmers have been very accommodating to members of the public as many have signed up to allow walkers to enjoy the NI landscape via private trails across their farmland, putting their trust in the public to treat their ground with respect.
“While the majority of those visiting are mindful of our farmers, their land and livestock when visiting rural areas, it is disappointing to see that there is a small number who have exploited this access. This has resulted in livestock worrying, litter, fly-tipping, disease risks, parking in front of gates and laneways blocking farmers’ access, safety issues and liability becoming very real concerns.”
Caro-lynne Ferris, ORNI executive director said, “The recent COVID-19 restrictions have generated an unprecedented increase in engagement with the outdoors. Whilst this is welcomed, it has no doubt caused significant issues. We welcome the opportunity to engage with the UFU and others to promote responsible use of the outdoors and find mutually agreeable ways of providing controlled access.”
Commenting on the increase in numbers using the countryside for exercise and recreation, Graham Seymour of the UFRC said, “We would encourage people to join a rambling or hill walking club as this can offer many benefits. Walk leaders ensure safety is paramount, there are adequate parking facilities and that everyone behaves responsibly. Many clubs even include litter picks in their programmes.”
The UFU will continue to liaise with the UFRC, ORNI and local authorities, and will consider campaigns to help encourage the public to enjoy the countryside responsibly with the aim of reducing the number of antisocial incidents.
“The UFU is supportive of agreed and organised access to private farmland if local landowners are in full agreement and indemnified against litigation. This usually works best when local authorities engage with landowners during the early stages of planning paths and trails. We want all parties to benefit from the beautiful landscape we have on our doorstep but it is essential that the correct balance is struck between access and the public not disturbing the daily ongoings of farming businesses,” said Mr Brown.