Many farmers are in a vulnerable position when it comes to dealing with members of the public looking to access their lands, according to the preliminary results of a survey conducted by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

The survey found that some 41% of farmers have received abuse from people wishing to access their lands and 38% have felt threatened by these leisure users.

INHFA vice president Pheilim Molloy said: “While the majority of farmers (59%) have not received abuse, with (62%) indicating that they have never actually felt threatened, we are still very concerned that a sizable minority have been abused and felt threatened.”

Molloy said the detail of survey respondent’s comments on public land access are “even more shocking”. He highlighted that “colourful language and aggressive behaviour” are “quite normal from walkers when asked to not bring their dogs” on lands.

He said that farmers are often told in no uncertain terms by members of the public that their dog would not bother sheep and to mind their own business.

Threats made

The INHFA vice president said he is even more concerned about “clear threats made against farmers”. He described how one farmer said that members of the public trying to access lands said “they’re going home for a gun to shoot my cattle and a knife to gut me like a fish”.

Another farmer respondent who reported to have challenged a group who had dogs without leads was told “that they would do it again and take care of any locals that tried to stop them”.

Off-road vehicles

Another issue that featured quite prominently in the INHFA survey responses was that of thrill seekers with off-road vehicles such as scrambler bikes, quads and all terrain 4x4’s accessing farm lands.

Molloy said that such individuals “see hill land as their playground and are quite willing to smash gates, tear down fences and destroy pathways with no regard for the landowners or the habitats these farmers are trying to protect”.

Concerns around hunting and wild-camping were also highlighted in the survey with one respondent stating how there were “three men camping on commonage lands with a high-powered rifle mounted on a tripod that was obviously being used for target practice”.

Another respondent outlined their fear of facing “six lads with dogs and a gun” while on their own.

‘Thuggish behaviour’

“While [we] accept that the vast majority of those that walk our hills and engage in leisure activity are not involved in threatening and bullish behaviour there is an undercurrent of thuggish behaviour that needs to be addressed,” warned Molloy.

The Donegal farmer said that once completed, the survey will give the INHFA a “clear understanding” of the issues it needs to address and include as it develops a policy paper on public access. This paper will be issued in the very near future, says the association.

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