Coronavirus: Farmers plead with walkers and cyclists to respect countryside

By Kevin Keane
BBC Scotland's rural affairs correspondent

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image captionHome made signs have been erected, encouraging people to stay away from rural areas during the pandemic

Scottish farmers have said walkers and cyclists are ignoring their pleas to act responsibly in the countryside.

NFU Scotland has received almost a hundred complaints about people accessing their land during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some farmers feel "vulnerable" because gates are being touched and people are walking through livestock.

But walking groups said it is important people can still access the countryside as long as they do so responsibly.

Kerry Clark, who farms at Currie near Edinburgh, said she has had hundreds of people walking through her land every day.

She told BBC Scotland: "There's a lot of gates that need opened and closed, even on the rights-of-way, so who knows who's touching those.

"At this time of year we're so busy with lambing and calving, we're trying to sow the crops as well, and we need to be accessing these gates. And if we get ill, who's going to do this for us?"

image captionFarmer Kerry Clark said hundreds of walkers and cyclists use her farm tracks each day

Farmer Dave Shepherd challenged a cyclist who was opening gates without gloves on a farm near Dunkeld in Perthshire.

He said: "I was making sure he was going to sanitise gates and things like that as he went through. He just ignored me.

"It is a place of work and for people still to have access to our workplace I think is ridiculous. We have a job to do in farming; there are no staff sat on the sidelines waiting to come in if we become infected."

Dropped tissues, discarded dog-mess bags and litter have become an increasing problem at farms.

Most of the walkers are thought to be relatively local but with little experience of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

The Land Reform law allows access to the countryside as long as visitors behave responsibly.

Some farmers argue that simply walking through farm land during a pandemic should be seen as irresponsible.

But Brendan Paddy from Ramblers Scotland believes it is important for mental health that access continues.

He explained: "Farmers and land managers are absolutely entitled to ask people to take extra precautions and to avoid particular areas but those are requests.

"We are not shutting down access to the countryside and nor would it be appropriate or proportionate to do so - but we do need people to take responsibility for their own actions and think about those working on the land.

The Scottish government has issued guidance on people's access rights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

They require walkers to maintain social distancing, keep dogs under control and to plan routes where possible which do not require the opening of gates.

Ministers say their guidance is not about restricting the rights of walkers but is part of the wider approach to preserving the nation's food supplies.

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