WITH SCOTLAND in the second phase of lifting its lockdown restrictions, farmers and landowners are coping with a new wave of people taking access in the countryside – sometimes not at all responsibly.

NFU Scotland stressed that many of the thousands who have accessed the Scottish countryside in the past 12 weeks have recognised the need for farmers and crofters to look after livestock and grow crops safely. However, there was 'an irresponsible minority' spoiling it for the majority.

A catalogue of incidents and case studies compiled by the union illustrates how difficult this period has been for many farmers, especially those on the urban fringe, with reports of people walking through fields of cows with calves or ewes and lambs with dogs off the lead; failing to pick up dog dirt (or, in some instances, bagging it then throwing it into fields); entering farm buildings and farmyards; abandoning vehicles in gateways and farm roads; leaving litter; interfering with gates; and, at worst, committing arson, vandalism and destruction of property.

With local authority recycling centres only partially re-opened, reports of fly-tipping have continued to grow, as Scotland’s countryside is used as a dumping ground for everything from commercial building waste to unwanted furniture.

NFUS vice president Charlie Adam said: “The majority of people are as appalled as we are at the catalogue of destruction, vandalism, livestock worrying and flytipping we have sadly seen in recent times."

Among the case studies highlighted by the union is that of Mark Thomson, Tillyrie, Milnathort, where a core path runs through the farm steading. As a past member of the local access forum, Mr Thomson knows what is in the Scottish Countryside Access Code – and thinks it is time for review.

“During lockdown, we have had reports locally of some walkers refusing to put dogs on leads when walking through fields of livestock and some wild camping with barbeques when wildfire risk was extreme," he said. “Speaking from experience, I think there is a need for the access code to be updated. It needs to be better balanced in terms of the needs of those taking access and those who live and work in the country, particularly those who keep livestock.”

Sandy Henderson, of Boat Farm, Kintore, has recently endured arson, vandalism and flytipping and, he claims, received insufficient support from Police Scotland and his local authority.

“I’ve seen vandalism, people having parties, barbeques and bonfires and gates being thrown open, damaging a vehicle," said Mr Henderson. "I have had cyclists in the middle of my barley crops and some people just wandering wherever they want. I have printed, laminated and put up posters only to have them ripped up hours later.

“The problems are considerably worse during lockdown and I have had 15 to 20 people an hour passing through the farm. I hope when lockdown ends that things return to normal.”

Jenny Baillie, of Over Dalserf, Ashgill, Lanarkshire, reported: “Flytipping is not a new problem for us but it has got considerably worse in lockdown. The roads near the farm are now home to bathtubs, mattresses, kitchen goods, food waste, rubble, plastic piping and builders waste. A burnt-out car wrapped in police tape has now been sitting there for three weeks.

“There is a small, yellow sign with the details for the Dumb Dumpers reporting line and stating that there is CCTV in the area," she said. "That isn’t the case, but it would be reassuring if the authorities put it in place and tackled the problem. Better policing and regular patrols must be a priority. The fact that we are close to the M74, and the fact that some of this waste clearly isn’t local, would justify the investment."

Alistair Hutton, Lochfergus Farm, Coylton, Ayrshire, has a small fishing loch on farm, but because of the heightened problems during lockdown has had to withdraw fishing rights.

“We have recently come to the decision that fishing will no longer be permitted at Lochfergus, due to the persistent littering and damage to fences," said Mr Hutton. “We put up new signs asking people to act responsibly but the fact that these signs have replaced ones that have been stolen tells you all you need to know about some of the irresponsible people who had been accessing Lochfergus to fish.”