Over recent times many readers, whether country dwellers or farmers, may have been aware of unwanted attempts to have a nearby footpath either formalised, reopened, or possibly upgraded to a bridle path (BP).

This latter has recently created some feeling around here, and although we have long since taken the required preventative steps we have someone locally who has been trying to create a new BP, not at their cost of course, but funded by the ratepayers.

The opportunity to do this occurs where the owners of land with footpaths have not obtained, or updated, the required Order under Section 31 of the Highways Act to register paths on their land. In our case we last applied for the said Order in 2012, so, with the order’s life of ten years, we are still protected, but this individual seems to have a lot of time on their hands and has been trying to identify an ‘unprotected’ footpath for a BP.

This came to light when the council advised nearby residents that an application had been made to upgrade an ancient farm track in our hamlet, an old farm byway to which nobody has sole rights. Only farmers or tenants with land leading off it have a historic right to use it. Nowadays there are only two who qualify with a need for access. I am one, but this doesn’t give me the right to register it along with our other paths, because we are not its sole owners.

Now, because of this loophole, this person is asking the council to register it as a BP although, as all surrounding footpaths are registered under Section 31, it’s only some 450 yards long and so would go nowhere! Needless to say nearby residents are up in arms at the prospect of the old, quiet, farm track becoming a formal bridle path. Additionally the lane, because of its infrequent use over the years, has become almost a small nature reserve on its own, which we all feel is worth protecting.

If you foresee a similar situation developing adjacent to your home, I am told the first thing you should do is check with your council and see if nearby paths have in fact been registered by their owners. In the case of West Sussex County Council you look up Statutory Orders, under Sec. 31 of the Highways Act. Follow instructions or call your council for advice. I hope this is useful.

The main thing, however, if you should own the land, is to register paths on that land, so walkers are unable to take shortcuts across it. This is because by unauthorised use these new routes can enable a member of the public to apply for such deviations to become formalised paths. It’s a bore, it costs an unrealistic amount of money to register but it does give owners some control.

Annoyingly, if landowners don’t do this, people can apply to get them adopted, when as I said earlier, the cost of such an upgrade, if successful, falls on local ratepayers. You can only register them under these Statutory Orders if they cross your land, but then you do need to ensure they are renewed every ten years. I hope this may help.

We finally managed to find time to venture up to Argyll in late September. Having tried earlier in the year but been thwarted by coronavirus, we had not managed to visit the forest for two years. Here the advantage over keeping livestock, which needs tending and feeding daily, becomes very obvious! Despite our long absence we found the sitka spruce plantations had taken full advantage of the wonderful growing conditions – damp, relatively mild, south westerly winds coming up off the Clyde – and many of the trees had grown significantly in the period, around 3ft plus a year. It is really starting to look like a forest now as one looks up at the hillsides from the main road along the banks of the Clyde.

We also had our first close look at a new bit of land, purchased last winter, which closely adjoins the main forest. This is around 300 acres of quite neglected ex-grazing land, used for sheep over recent years, which with under grazing had become very neglected, real ‘dog and stick’ farming land.

Over this year our very effective agents, Scottish Woodlands, have been readying the land for trees. There are a number of hoops to jump through which are best attempted by their staff, who know the intricacies of Scottish law. A main requirement for any such planting application is the bird survey. This is expensive because it means employing people to sit down on the hillsides for days and weeks on end, recording whatever avian visitors pay a visit. It must be very tiring work! Despite holdups caused by the virus situation it appears we are now on schedule to get the planting under way shortly after Christmas.

As a follow up to my recent report regards the police, we had further intrusions recently; youths running over the Big Six roof sheets of the old cattle barns, taking the huge risk of a sheet cracking and almost certain death on the concrete floor beneath.

For insurance reasons I needed to call the Police again. Sussex Police have recently set up a small ‘Rural Crime Group’ and one officer showed interest, turning up the next day and instigating steps to get matters in hand. It was reassuring to speak to a policeman who actually knew what farmers, quite commonly afflicted by vandalism and theft, have to suffer. We all know the police are understaffed, so it was a great improvement on the recent police reaction. It gives some hope to country dwellers generally.