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Dividing land and opinion in the Beacons

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Rachael Garside Rachael Garside | 13:17 UK time, Friday, 23 September 2011

This week, I've been out roaming the Brecon Beacons and discussing the thorny issue of fencing on common land.

A group of farmers in the area are considering taking legal action to challenge a Welsh Government's decision to pull down a long line of fencing in the mountains.

The fence was originally put in place to halt the spread of Foot and Mouth disease during the 2001outbreak, and ten years on, it's still there.

This is one of those stories where no-one is actually sitting on the fence - it's a straightforward, for or against.

Ramblers and countryside groups say it's an eyesore which should be removed while farmers with grazing rights on the Beacons say it's still an essential part of livestock management and disease control.

I met Phil Park from the National Trust which owns most of the land the fence covers at the Pont ar Daf entry point to the Beacons.

This is where most walkers begin they're climb up the highest peak in the area, Pen y Fan. Even on a dreary day, there are plenty of people out and about wearing stout boots and backpacks.

Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Pen y Fan in the Brecon Beacons.

Phil told me that around a million people a year use the car park there to visit the Beacons and explained that the fence which runs from Cwm Cynwin to the Upper Neuadd reservoir was only ever meant to be there for five years.

This was to give farmers a chance to re-heft their sheep - in other words to retrain them where to graze on the open land but it's now served its purpose and needs to come down. The farmers disagree.

I spoke to Edwin Harris, the chairman of the Brecon Beacons graziers association. He says that because there are fewer sheep up in the mountains, the area isn't being managed as well as it used to be.

Farmers haven't got as much time or help or spend up in the hills and the fence is helping to keep control of the sheep and the environment.

It seems to me that it's all about access to the countryside - an age-old argument over the right to roam and the right to manage the land.

In North Wales you see far more stone walls snaking up the mountainsides to divide the land and they look like they've always been there, sitting comfortably amongst the landscape.

Modern fencing doesn't look quite so attractive but is the more practical solution. So where do you draw the line - literally?

Ten years after the arguments over the Beacons fence began, the Welsh Government has now taken the decision to allow it to be taken down, which you'd think would be the end of it.

But the farmers aren't giving up without a fight and say they're seeking legal advice to consider how to challenge the decision. It's not over yet.


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