A top eventer whose yard has been inundated with walkers since lockdown started was staggered when one couple reported a horse in their way – when they were in his field.
Francis Whittington told H&H that while most people use the footpath through his East Sussex yard respectfully, and regular walkers will stop for a chat, he has recently had people leaving rubbish, climbing over and damaging fencing and stiles, and trying to feed the horses.
“It’s like the London Marathon out there,” he said. “Someone even defecated on the footpath.
“The footpath is there for everyone to use but what’s become apparent is a lot of people using it have no idea about how to use it.
“People like the idea of the countryside but seem to forget it’s a working environment, it’s not just there to look pretty.”
Matters came to a head last week when a walker called Francis on his mobile.
“I’ve seen her before, walking across fields and taking pictures, and I’ve got no objections; it’s beautiful here and it’s for everyone to enjoy,” he said.
“But then she rang to let me know there was a horse loose on the footpath. I wondered where that was, as the path goes across three fields and the drive; I thought something must have escaped on to the drive.”
Francis thanked the woman but a quick check found no escapees, so he rang her back.
“I said ‘thank you very much but it’s all fine’, and she said the horse was impeding her way,” he said. “Then I realised, and I said ‘do you mean the one in its field?’ She said it was blocking a public right of way.
“I thought ‘hang on a minute’, and went straight down there. The horse was grazing in his field; my field, and they could have gone either side of him but they were waiting for him to move. I knew it was trouble when the husband said ‘I know my rights’.
“They had two kids, aged about 16 and 12, and the wife had also said ‘look at my daughter; she’s crying because the horse came towards her’. This was starting to press my buttons, so when he said he knew his rights, that was it.”
If this makes even one person think twice, that’s a good thing.
A somewhat heated exchange followed – the couple departed, and have not been seen on the land since.
Francis spoke to his parish council, on which he has served, before, about the issues he is facing.
“What this highlights is that while there is a huge group of people who use the countryside correctly, there’s a big group who have no idea,” he said. “They think they’ve got rights, but they should treat it with respect.
“We’ve got huge numbers of people running up and down, touching everything, coughing and spluttering everywhere, breaking things which in law as the landowner, I have to pay for.
“There’s a disconnect with reality and a lack of common sense – when Boris Johnson said it was up to the public to use their common sense, I thought ‘Well, that’s it then’!”
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