A long-running row between farmers and racehorse trainers in the Yorkshire town of Middleham should soon be resolved by the results of a public inquiry that took place earlier this month.
The centuries-old dispute erupted again last year following a decision by the trainers to erect a fence to prevent sheep wandering across the gallops.
Middleham Trainers Association erected the fence following a series of near misses involving racehorses and sheep and an incident last year in which a horse and rider were injured when sheep walked in front of a string of horses.
But the 15 trainers who use the North Yorkshire gallops put up the fence without planning permission — and were told to take it down after a local farmer complained.
The association is now seeking retrospective permission for 1.1 miles of mesh fencing on 54 acres of the moor, which runs to 356 acres.
Trainer Mark Johnston said it made no sense for sheep worth £50 to endanger horses worth millions of pounds.
“We are responsible for 115 employees. We put £2.5m into the local economy and we can’t take those sort of risks,” he said. “Having sheep walk in front of horses travelling at 40mph could result in serious injury.”
Mr Johnston has “reluctantly” applied for permission to build his own private all-weather gallops on a nearby farm — a move which would take over 200 horses off the moor and drastically reduce the annual fee of £30,000 which the trainers currently pay to the town council to use the gallops.
“I don’t want to leave the moor,” he added. “But we can’t continue like this.”
But farmer Rodney Tennant who grazes sheep on the moor says the fence breaches locals’ rights as common-land holders and is demanding it be removed.
“The trainers have unlawfully annexed a huge section of the moor,” he said.
The row is a reminder of the friction that has existed between farmers and trainers on the moor down the centuries. In 1873 racing at Middleham ceased for a time after a dispute between the two sides.
The result of the inquiry, held on 11-12 March, is anticipated in the next two months.