Kent Ramblers

Core of the Matter

This article from the September 1994 issue of Kent Area News outlines the development of our policy on paths obstructed by orchards.

Core of the Matter

Mike Temple Gets the Pip Over a Problem with Orchards

An apple a day might be good advice, but not when they are grown across public footpaths.

Ramblers in Kent have, perhaps for too long, been putting up with country paths blocked by orchards, hop fields and fruit bushes. For years, farmers have been planting these crops without regard for public rights of way and, for some extraordinary reason, not a great deal of fuss has been made about it. Ramblers, on the whole, are fairly tolerant people and perhaps have been more willing to walk round an orchard than a field of wheat without complaint.

But times have changed, and so have farming practices. Whereas it was often possible to thread one s way through a traditional orchard where trees grew high, fruit was picked from ladders, and the lower branches did not totally obstruct the path, these days trees are shorter, are more densely packed, and permit fruit picking from the ground No way can you now get through.

It so happens that over the past year, a number of diversion applications have been made by landowners who wish to divert paths after having blocked them by illegal planting. The question that arises is 'should the landowner be excused for obstructing the path by agreeing to a diversion, or should we insist that the path be reinstated even if it means pulling out several hundred trees?'

Opinions amongst our footpath secretaries in Kent have differed markedly. Purists say the law is the law, and it should be enforced at all times. Others take a more lenient view and, whilst not excusing landowners who deliberately obstructed the paths in the first place, feel that to insist that many hundreds of trees be grubbed out to reinstate the definitive line would only heap opprobrium upon the RA and damage our public image.

An appeal to our National Executive sent them into deep thought for some six months. Indeed, one had the impression that they were having difficulty in getting a hand round the problem. But a moment's reflection suggested that perhaps orchards were outside their experience since none grow north of the Wandsworth Road where all good NEC members live.

Eventually they decided that where any orchard had been planted within the previous 5 years, then we should demand reinstatement on the definitive line. Over 5 years, then we should negotiate a diversion, but this should only be the minimum necessary to overcome the problem.

And this is not all. Farmers naturally want diversions to run round the edge of orchards and, in some cases, this has resulted in applications for a zig-zag route. The trouble with this is that not only is it unpleasant but if, in the future, orchards are grubbed out and returned to arable farming, a frequent conversion in recent years as market competition forces growers out of fruit, then we would be left with that zig-zag jigging its way through the countryside quite illogically to those without knowledge of its history.

Both Kent Area' s Footpaths Sub-Committee and the Area Executive have debated this issue, and a set of guidelines drawn up which attempts to navigate something of a middle line. We have rejected the concept of a 5 year time period since this appears to condone an illegal practice in certain circumstances, but are willing to negotiate minor diversions to minimise the destruction of trees. We will also consider accepting permissive paths on a temporary basis so long as there is an undertaking that the definitive line will be restored when the orchard is replanted KCC are also being encouraged to circulate farmers with a strong reminder of their obligations in the same way as was done over the matter of ploughing.

These guidelines will be circulated to all our footpath secretaries.

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