Wednesday 28 September 2016

Viewpoint: Hillwalking case could shut down the countryside

Published 19/04/2016 | 02:30

Landscape of Wicklow Mountains, Ireland
Landscape of Wicklow Mountains, Ireland

It is something that has always been a bone of contention.

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Yet a "game-changing" payout that saw a hillwalker awarded €40,000 after falling in the Wicklow Mountains may now prove a deciding factor for farmers nervous over potential liabilities.

Farmers in scenic and mountainous areas will be concerned the judgement will have wider ramifications, and it is hard to blame them.

The case was taken against the National Parks and Wildlife Service when a hillwalker required stitches in her knee after falling on a rotten floorboard along a stretch of the Wicklow Way. The concern now is that this case may potentially open up the floodgates for similar claims.

Opinion is already hotly divided on hillwalkers, with some farmers willingly letting people pass through farms to access scenic points, and others adopting a more fearful approach to their land being used for trails.

The general consensus among farm bodies is that livelihoods could potentially be ruined if farmers are held responsible for injuries sustained by hillwalkers.

Reacting to last week's judgment, the IFA's hill chairman Pat Dunne has warned it could hinder moves to develop the countryside for leisure pursuits and tourism.

He called for all walkways to be developed through agreement and for farmers to be indemnified against any potential claims.

The ICSA has warned that the progress made over the years with Comhairle na Tuaithe to open up access to the countryside may be reversed.

Seamus Sherlock, the ICSA's rural development chair, says last week's judgement could particularly affect the development of cycling routes.

There is no doubt but the minutiae of the judgement will be studied in detail over the coming weeks.

Safety

Meanwhile, there were some sobering figures on farm deaths and injuries under discussion as Thomas Moloney, last year's safety winner in the Zurich Farming Independent Farmer of the Year Awards, opened the doors of his premises for an awareness day.

There are some well-founded fears that farmers will be under a lot of pressure as this month progresses, with the bad weather storing up a backlog of work to be completed when the sunshine finally appears.

Rushing jobs is one of the key factors in many farm accidents, and, as Teagasc's Michael McCarthy points out, this can be fatal.

Once you set foot on a farm, there is a multitude of potential risks ranging from difficulties with machinery to the threat of unpredictable animals.

With a busy late spring and summer ahead, the message is that it might not be possible to eliminate the risks, but it is in your hands to seriously reduce it.

Indo Farming

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