Opinion: Farmers should open up their empty winter fields to the public?
Three thoughts, one idea.
(1) In the new year, people often think about holidays and flick through travel brochures, dreaming of far-off places, romance, adventure, escape. But, while we may travel all round the world to see the sights, most of us have probably never set foot on most of the land around us.
While farmers know every inch of every curve on their own farm, the only time they may have ever been on a neighbour's patch is in pursuit of a straying beast. On such trips, sightseeing is probably not top priority.
It is very rare nowadays for anyone to just strike off across another's land.
(2) Once upon a time, I used to hunt. I loved the unpredictability of the chase, especially crossing fresh land and coming across a fort, unexpected big ditch, stretch of crag or bog, or an odd shaped tree. Not to mention bridges and other elements of the built landscape.
The perspective we have on the natural world is mainly what we get from passing by in a car. Actually being there in person is a very different, richer, experience.
(3) Driving around the countryside now, the prevalence of cattle sheds is striking. The logical conclusion of this is that, if the cattle are in the sheds, they are not in the fields. So the fields are mostly empty.
So to my idea.
Maybe I'm being naïve but it seems that there could be an opportunity for farmers to open their gates to people to walk their land during the winter months. I'm not talking about setting up regular walking routes. Just one-off events on a farm or farms.
Some may fear this would be the thin end of the wedge to opening up the country to all. Or could it be an Irish solution to an Irish situation?
While there may be legitimate practical concerns, the feelings about land ownership run far deeper. Think plantation, famine, eviction. Those feelings won't go away any time soon and they certainly won't go by pressure.
But I think that others may be open to having visitors on their land, provided it's on their terms. Most farmers are, rightly, proud of their farm and its stories. For a start, as a friend remarked, every field has a name and a reason for it.
I'm not trying to claim this is a new idea.
A few weeks back, thanks to the generosity of Martin Bergin and Danny Gorman, as an extension of a walk around Granstown Lake in Co Laois, we got to hear stories about the still-magnificent Granstown Castle. From there we walked on up to the Crown of Ossory, with its fabulous view of the surrounding countryside.
Rather, my point is that these farmland walks could be more widespread, with different farmers in a community taking turns in the winter months.
The midlands is always looking for ways to attract a slice of the tourist cake. Perhaps this could be seed of an answer. It might not be an obvious money-making operation but anything which brings in visitors is a start.
So we've decided to do one ourselves on our farm. There isn't anything terribly dramatic to be seen but there are a few interesting (we think) nuggets.
On Sunday, February 12 (2pm), we will do a 5km walk on our farm, just outside Ballacolla village. It will start from our gate opposite the picnic table on the Durrow Road. I don't know if it will attract much interest. I hope it does.
It will be advertised locally and on social media. All welcome. Ditto binoculars, cameras and dogs on a lead. Dress for the weather and wear wellies or other suitable footwear. Please note the route is not suitable for buggies.
For further information, contact me on email@example.com
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