Following triumphant announcements on the news that the ‘Foot and Mouth crisis’ is finally over, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d seen the last of those accursed red “Foot and mouth: Right of way closed” signs that blighted the countryside last year. But – surprise, surprise – those red signs are still out there. A closer look at the DEFRA website reveals this detail:
“We are delighted that 98 percent of footpaths are now open nationwide and that the rural economy can look forward to recovery this spring. We recognise however that a small number of rights of way crossing former infected premises are still closed and ask all outdoor enthusiasts to continue to respect any signs in place to this effect.”
This is due to the fact that secondary cleansing needs to be undertaken on previously infected or culled sites before they can be re-opened. DEFRA states: “Most cleansing and disinfection has been completed or will be done by the end of February”. However if farmers don’t bother with a secondary scrub-up, their farm will remain off limits for 12 months after culling, meaning some Northumberland, Cumbria, Durham and North Yorkshire farms may not be clear till August / September next year.
The fact that most animals on culled sites were never confirmed as diseased but were slaughtered ‘just in case’ doesn’t seem to matter. There are, of course, rogue farmers who have rather enjoyed the privacy provided by the red signs and are still leaving them up on rights of way illegally.
Having seen two red signs on a local ride yesterday (one faded and dead, the other startlingly bright and fresh) we tried to find out how to check which trails were legitimately (we use the word loosely) shut and which signs were up illegally.
The Countryside agency site links to local mapping information which helpfully told us our general area was 90% open, but some areas of the North East are still only 75% open. No specific ‘hot spot’ information was available for route planning or investigative purposes.
However, we rang the listed helpline and they put us in touch with the rights of way department who were really helpful. After a quick swap of grid references, the officer at North Yorkshire County Council checked the definitive DEFRA map and then phoned us back. She explained that, “It wasn’t us who put the signs up in the first place, and though we’ve had ROW officers out there taking signs down they generally work from the roadside, so some hard to reach areas still have ‘incorrect’ signs.” Apparently the area had been ‘resistant to opening’ throughout the crisis. She assured us that as the signs were ‘incorrect’ an officer would go out and remove them next time they were in the area.
So the moral of this story is that the fight to get areas open is still on, despite what the news says, but if we’re prepared to do a bit of scouting work then we’ll at least clear out the ‘dog in the manger’ closures a lot faster.