There's a few previous posts on this blog about the problems of sheep invading our orchard from the adjoining fields. One of the problem areas is the field gate between our orchard site and the adjoining farmer's field. The iron gate is a four bar gate which is good for preventing the escape of cattle, horses and adult sheep. However the gate does not stop lambs wriggling through the gaps between the gate bars and invading our land. Once on the land they can and do cause damage to our fruit trees. So with the prior agreement from our neighbouring farmer we have added a layer of wiring to close off the gaps in the gate, thus protecting our trees from the sheep.
However we have found that people using the public footpath have been damaging and loosening the gate wiring and consequently allowing the lambs to gain access to the orchard field. At the moment we have to visit the orchard a couple of times each day to round up any intruding lambs and to check the security of the gate. The people loosening the wiring are doing this to provide access for their dogs which are accompanying them on the walk along the public footpath. Having moved the wires, the walkers do not restore them to the secure position. They are in effect causing damage to our property and if, as a consequence of their actions, the sheep damage our trees those walkers are responsible for the damages.
As land owners we have a responsibility to maintain stiles for the footpath. We are not allowed to block the footpath to people using the path. Our wiring of the field gate does not obstruct the stile. We are under no obligation to ensure the stile is dog friendly. Dogs have no rights on the footpath, although they can be a Natural Accompaniment to someone using the path. The law is summed up here. and our responsibilities are described here.
Over the past couple of years we've put a lot of work and our own money into making sure the public footpath is easily accessible, not overgrown after years of neglect and improving safety for children/pets beside the river. We're also investing in new gates by the roadside which will improve access for walkers, their dogs and wheeled equipment such as wheelchairs and pushchairs. However when you have people causing damage it does make us think twice about being friendly to the public.
On today's visit to the site we found on the footpath recently dropped litter, dog faeces and further damage to the wiring on the gate. Ironically the purpose of our visit was to check the dimensions of a new dog gate we are building to ensure it would fit in place!