The future of farming, food and landcape post-Brexit

I attended a most interesting conference organised by CPRE Shropshire.The whole event was very professionally run by CPRE. Speakers were dragooned into sticking to their time limits with unexpected ruthlessness. The result was plenty of time for questions  and we finished on the dot. The speaker list was varied and stimulating.  As always, it was nice to meet and chat to like minded individuals and catch up with acquaintances.

OK, so what did I learn? Four main points:

  1. Christopher Price from the CLA gave an informative account of what is actually going on in government to determine the future of farming and the environment.  He said that the 25 year strategy paper on the environment was nearly ready but the sister paper on farming was held up because of the UK’s concern to develop a UK single market for farming post-Brexit. This is particularly difficult  because agriculture is  a devolved function and Scotland will not accept this approach.
  2. Mark Measures graphically illustrated the problems and wastage   created by soil erosion and poor soil quality
  3. Liam Bell, a gamekeeper, explained how there are conservation benefits, such as more lapwings, from shooting lots of ducks
  4. But most interesting for me was Joy Greenall, an organic farmer from Newcastle on Clun who talked about her 130 acre farm Cow Hall.  Only the previous  day I had walked on the section of Offa’s Dyke near her farm and seen for myself the unusual cultivated uplands of the Clun forest. Her highest field is 1,300 ft, and this is the only one she ploughs –  because it is the flattest!  So keen students of my tweets will recognise that I have used the same photo twice – one for the walk tweet and one on this blog.

Thank you CPRE for such an interesting event.


We don’t know how lucky we are

I have just returned from a memorable holiday with friends and family in Guatemala  and Mexico. In Mexico we explored the volcano of Iztaccihuatl. The minibus took us a long way up and then we climed about 1,200 ft on foot to a height of nearly 14,000 ft, the highest I have ever been on land.  It was a wonderful chance to explore a beautiful remote landscape. The volcano is not active so the slopes were not covered in ash as they are for instance on Etna in Sicily.

The guide told us that on these regular tours he has virtually no native Mexicans. All his customers are foreigners. A Canadian on our trip explained that he  and other Canadians occasionally organised work parties to try and clear some of the mountain trails which would otherwise disappear altogether from neglect.  There is apparently no tradition amongst Mexicans of mountain walking.

So here is my point. We do not always appreciate how incredibly lucky we are in the UK to have inherited BOTH an amazing  variety of beautiful landscapes   AND a tradition of exploring and enjoying them, supported by a hard-won series of access rights. Let us continue to protect and enjoy our heritage.


A day in the life of a parish footpath officer

I have been a parish footpath officer for the five parishes which make up the North Bromyard group for five years. And today has been one of the most satisfying days so far. Back in 2011 I identified a glaring problem with a path known to its friends as Wolferlow 11. There was no bridge over the stream – nor had there been apparently for 20 years. The helpful landowner told  me he redirected hapless walkers across a nearby bridge about 100 metres away. I then had the idea to try and get this nearby bridge  made into the proper route by a footpath diversion.

The wonderful Rachel Dixon, the footpath warden, helped me, the Council agreed, the  parish agreed, the proposal was advertised and all was going amazingly well. Then a problem. The Council wanted some sort of shared responsibility agreement with the landowner (though bridges are their responsibility). The landowner understandably refused, and there was delay upon delay, with little hope of progress, despite the  dozens of chasers I sent out.  I told myself it didn’t matter too much because I had signed the  new route as a permissive route – but really I was pretty disgruntled.

Then in September  2016  – out of the blue –  I saw that the legal  Modification Order had been actually  made. Even now I don’t know how the problem  was resolved, but resolved it was. So today with some apprehension I went out to inspect Wolferlow 11 to see whether the Order had now been confirmed and the new route signed.  And, yes,  it had been done!

Now you can see the point of the photo. You can see the new waymarker on the same post as the older permissive sign. But not any longer you can’t, because now I have removed the permissive sign.

For a PFO there are some days of enormous frustration and disappointment when landowners or contractors have not done the work they promised, or when a new problem emerges. But there are plenty of good days, and this was definitely a good day.


south west coast path

We have finished the south-west coast path.  My brother George has organised  a group of us walking the path in twice-yearly sessions, starting six years ago, and now we have walked all 630 miles of it, finishing at the south side of Poole harbour just yesterday. In fact only two of us, George (in red) and Mark, have walked every inch but about 15 of us have walked most of it. I’ve done about 570 miles.

It is a wonderful national trail. Some of the going has been more diffciult than we expected, with the frequent steep climbs  up 200 steps followed immediately by 200 steps down being a particular favourite.  But the sea has been a constant source of pleasure, from the wild  and stormy conditions at Harland Point, which blew George’s glasses clean off his face (never to be found), to the waves pounding the path at Dawlish as we walked by the side of the newly-restored railway track, to the final delightful stroll from Old Harry rocks to Poole harbour.

The bed-and-breakfasts we have stayed at have nearly all been excellent. Even the infamous Captain Jack at Lynmouth has provided a host of good stories.

The waymarking is, as you would expect, mainly very good. However it was disappointing that the Lulworth ranges were closed to us, requiring a long inland diversion of average quality. As we walked round the ranges, all was quiet. No evidence at all of any firing taking place. We must hope that Natural England will achieve some sort of resolution of this problem when this section of the England coast path is implemented. Talking of which, we walked through one completed section of the England coast path, from Weymouth to Lulworth Cove, without seeing any evidence at all of the wider coastal  access that the  England coast path is supposed to provide. That is such a shame. There should be notices explaining the beach access and the spreading room, but unless I missed it, there was nothing.

The south-west coast path is a wonderful natural asset of which the UK can be very proud.  It clearly brings in huge revenues to local B&Bs, hotels, pubs, restaurants and taxis. Let us hope it continues to flourish.

kington walking festival

Kington must be one of the best places in the world to walk. There is so much wonderfully varied countryside on the doorstep. So I always look forward to the Kington Walking Festival, a relatively new festival but very popular with locals and visitors alike.  Their PR is brilliant too. What news editor could resist the picture of the Committee meeting on Hergest Ridge with the trig point in the background.

Knowing the area well, I go for walks involving transport to the start, so you can do  a linear walk back which you couldn’t easily do on your own. Mine started near Llanfihangel Rhydithon. I knew this but didn’t expect the bus to take us nearly  to the top of the hill 1,400 feet up!The Radnor forest is a superb area of open space, easy to get lost in bad weather, but not on this glorious sunny   day with views to Plunlumon, the Carmathen Fans, the central Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains.  The only blot is that you pass by an area closed off by the military, which I know from experience can involve terrifying loud explosions (but again, not today).

Our group of 10 was a nice mix of locals, some  of whom kept bumping into people they knew, and others from Oxford, Malvern and Bristol.

From New Radnor we climbed the wonderfully named Smatcher where we manged to lose one of the party for about 15 minutes. The back-marker was at the front!  Once re-united we pressed on to Gladestry, where we refreshed at the local pub, and then returned to Kington across Hergest Ridge, still in sunshine past the lovely ponies (and note the iconic monkey puzzles in the background). 15 miles in all. Thanks to our walk leader James for a great walk in a perfect setting.



The hills of Rhayader

Rhayader is a wonderful base for those of us lucky enough to live close to Wales. The public access is superb, and you can do long, quite challenging walks from all the different reservoirs. I walked with my friend Jim from just north of Craig Goch reservoir on  a route we simply chose from the map.  We headed due north over open hillside and then saw the upper Wye valley spread out below us. After following the Wye Valley Walk along lanes for  a couple of miles we again reached open countryside and discovered this marvellous array of rowan trees, festooned in berries. Maybe beguiled by the rowans, we got slightly lost  and veered away from the Wye Valley Walk. Not for the first time, technology proved valuable in the shape of  the GPS GB app which will give you your precise grid reference anywhere. However to regain the route required exhausting scrambling up a steep slope of bracken  and across a very boggy valley.

Once we regained our route we could admire the open country once again. Now  leaving the Wye Valley Walk we trekked westawards over access land and then south on a theoretical bridleway. This involved some very tough sections through long grass and reeds, with boots sinking into the bog, and no ceratinty about where your foot was landing. Seeing the road, the back road to Aberystwyth, was a good moment and we could enjoy the final  three miles on this splendid mountain road.  All in all, a more challenging 12 mile walk than we expected  – but wonderful remote countryside.

Dorstone – archaeology centre of Herefordshire

Saturday 2 July was the date for Leadon Vale Ramblers to visit Dorstone  and tackle the Herefordshire Trail over Merbach Hill before returning via tracks and lanes. Dorstone boasts the best archaeology in Herefordshire, most obviously with Arthur’s stone a 5,000 years old tomb, which would once have been covered over.

arthurs stone
Arthur’s stone

But on neighbouring Dorstone Hill major excavations are  taking place with a whole team from Manchester University camped in the village.Three timber aisled halls have been discovered, dating from 4,000-3,700 BC, the earliest timber buildings so far discovered in Herefordshire.

From Merbach Hill you get amazing panoramic views of Clee hill, the Malverns, Brecon Beacons  and Hergest Ridge.

On our return I decided we would avoid Spoon Lane, a by-way which gives the most direct route back, because parts of it are completely overgrown. Mary and I had recced it but we disappeared from view entirely at times. It is a shame because the central section had been  cleared at some effort but that was to no avail when either end was so overgrown. I had also contacted the parish clerk for Dorsone who told me the parish would not clear it because they received no funding for it.I’ve reported the problem so we will see what response we get from Balfour Beatty.

It was especially nice to welcome several people new to Leadon Vale, Penny from Kings Caple, Tom and  Steph from Little Dewchurch, and Trevor and Lynn from Rugby. They were caravanning at Orcop and had found the walk on Walkfinder. We hope to see them again.