Roaming dogs blamed for closure of fell access point

Date: Monday 10th April 2017

IRRESPONSIBLE behaviour by a few people resulted in the closure of an entry point to a popular area of public access land between Lazonby and Plumpton, a farmer has said.

A site of special scientific interest as well as an access area, Wan Fell, off the B6412 between the two villages, has been well used for a number of years by many people from the local area, including families, nature lovers and dog walkers.

The land was accessed by means of a gate next to a quarry entrance, but this has now been padlocked and wound round with barbed wire — much to the consternation of many users, some of who have raised the matter with Lazonby Parish Council, and also the district and county authorities.

One of those who has protested against the move is Peter Radcliffe, Southwaite, who said: “It’s not right — there are few enough public footpaths around here without this area being closed off. It’s public access land.” He added that he had contacted both Eden District Council and the county council to raise the issue, but no action had been taken over it as far as he was aware.

However, farmer Brian Atkinson, of nearby Scratchmere Scar, who keeps native breed cattle on part of Wan Fell, said he decided to block the gate only because a few people were behaving badly on the area, with some also parking their vehicles in such a way as to block access needed to the quarry.

According to Mr. Atkinson, the main issue was people letting dogs roam on the fell, leaving mess and disturbing ground nesting birds and other wildlife. In some cases, he said, commercial dog walkers were letting loose groups of the dogs they were supposed to be looking after and sitting in their cars as the animals did as they wanted.

When he attempted to point out to them that this was against the rules for public access land, he received a lot of abusive words in return. “Dog muck can cause disease, dogs will go for ground nesting birds, and walls have been pushed over by cattle trapped in corners by dogs,” he said.

Mr. Atkinson also pointed out that a new access point had been created a short distance towards Lazonby from the old one, in the form of a style rather than a gate in order to combat the problem with dogs.

This style gives access to a lower section of Wan Fell which is separated from the higher ground by a single strand of electrified wire, but, said Mr. Atkinson, people can easily get under this wire, or step over it, if they want to wander over the whole area. The wire has been put in place not to keep people out, but to prevent cattle coming into contact with the adders which live on the higher part of the fell.

Geoff Fewkes, senior access officer with Cumbria County Council — which is responsible for public access matters — confirmed that Wan Fell remains public access land, free for anybody to use, but said Mr. Atkinson was within his rights to close off the gate.

He explained that the gate was originally put in place as the result of an agreement between Natural England and the former owner of Wan Fell, but the government agency had agreed to it being blocked off by Mr. Atkinson.

According to Mr. Fewkes, before this was done parts of Wan Fell stank because of the dog mess during warm spells, and some people had simply driven over cones and chains put in place to try and prevent the quarry entrance being blocked. “The farmer is not anti-access, just pro-respect,” he added.