In last week’s WSG article both the departing and new chairmen, paid tribute to each other while mentioning what they consider to be the role of the SDNPA.
It was disappointing that Mr Phillips referred to his ‘vision’ of a ‘People’s Park’, and how he aims to work with communities and the public, but no mention of those who manage the land.
Neither he nor the departing chairman referred to the farmers and landowners who own 85% of the land which falls within the National Park. Nor the work they do to maintain and enhance the unique heritage of South Downs.
When you consider that only 15% of the SDNP is publically owned, it is disappointing that the decades of sustainable farming practices, including livestock grazing and arable farming, so important in maintaining and protecting this remarkable landscape, which is clearly considered to be so special, was ignored. This does not bode well for future relationships between the farming community and the SDNPA.
The public obviously enjoy walking, riding and cycling along the South Down’s Way, but as was so graphically demonstrated during lambing yet again, public access and livestock farming are not always compatible.
The number of cases of sheep worrying, mutilation and deaths caused by rampant dogs, is wholly unacceptable. Sadly the SDNPA did little at the time to police the footpaths, and any signs they put up were ambiguous to say the least. It would have been more helpful if park wardens were out day and night ensuring the public treat the ‘privilege’ of walking across private farm land, particularly during lambing, with respect.
I hope the new chairman will make one of his first priorities to engage with farmers and landowners and learn what the SDNPA can do for them, rather than follow in the footsteps of the past ten years when it has clearly indicated that farmers play second fiddle to the Park authority and the public.
This includes day to day management, and also the thorny issue of planning. An area where the Park’s bureaucratic approach, including hefty fees and a lack of understanding of the importance of certain projects which are vital to support the sustainability or enhancement of family farms.
It is also time to put a curfew on the time when the public may access the South Down’s Way. It is not acceptable for hordes of cyclists to pass through farmyards at the dead of night, with head lamps shining and screeching voices, between the hours of 9pm and 5am. Hardworking farmers are regularly woken in the dead of night, by noisy cyclists passing beneath bedroom windows and clattering gates.
At this time of year in particular, cyclists travelling late at night and disturbing the peace is unacceptable. Not only are they a public nuisance, they are also in danger of serious injuries as they hurtle along dangerous terrain in the dark. I understand that on a number of occasions the emergency services have had to turn out with ambulances and helicopters to rescue seriously injured cyclists who have hit obstacles in the dark, from inaccessible locations.
Rural crime is escalating dramatically. Farms are mostly isolated and offer easy and multiple access routes. Those of us who have not already experienced losses have certainly been staked out by potential criminals.
Farms have had tractors, trailers, Land Rovers, quad bikes, chain saws, forestry equipment, sheep, cattle, turkeys and dogs taken. Hedges, fences and gates are no deterrent for those intent upon gaining access. These delinquents clearly know exactly what they are coming for.
The police have fortunately geared up their focus on rural crime with the introduction of the dedicated rural unit. However, the need for legislation to back up their actions is now well overdue.