By Debbie James

Farmers under pressure from record numbers of people visiting the Welsh countryside are being urged to act within the law when they deal with incidents that interrupt their farming operations.

People are shunning foreign holidays due to Covid-19 restrictions and although this is good for rural tourism a minority are making life very difficult for farmers.

Half-term was a taster of what lies ahead this summer with personal accounts of blocked gateways, trespass, fly tipping and livestock worrying shared widely on social media.

Farming charities fear some farmers have reached breaking point.

Gareth Davies of the farm support charity Tir Dewi said farmers generally welcome seeing people enjoying the countryside again but the few who block gateways, leave gates open, let their dogs run loose among livestock and leave litter behind are causing “untold damage’’.

“Animals are being injured or let out of fields, their welfare is being risked by those who don't understand the countryside or aren't inclined to act in a respectful way,’’ said Mr Davies.

“This is taking a huge toll on farming families who are already stretched to breaking point.’’

But police are warning that farmers themselves could get into hot water if they take the law into their own hands.

Sergeant Rob Taylor, the newly appointed all-Wales rural and wildlife crime coordinator, urged farmers to make police their first point of contact.

“Our rural communities need to be careful that they don’t fall foul of the law themselves by their actions.

“As frustrating as a parked car can be across an access, moving it with farm machinery could result in damage being caused which can be an offence in certain circumstances.’’

Sergeant Taylor advised farmers to consider other options.

“A phone call to the police should be the first decision if an unnecessary obstruction is caused and of course a well-placed ‘no parking’ or ‘access required’ sign can also be useful.’’

Many rural communities believe local authorities are not doing enough to manage the situation.

Farmers’ Union of Wales deputy president Ian Rickman said the union had made efforts to liaise with authorities to address problems but they had “not yielded the required outcome’’.

The sharp increase in visitors to the countryside was a major concern in rural and farming communities, he added.

He pleaded with the public to respect farmers’ working and home environments.

“We welcome tourists, they play an intrinsic part in our rural economies, but we do implore them act responsibly."

Some local authorities are seeking to ban dog walkers from using public land but there is concern that this will further shift the burden onto farmers.

As an example, Gwynedd Council agreed earlier this year to look at the potential for further restrictions on dogs at certain beaches and other public places.

Charles DeWinton of CLA Cymru wants the Countryside Code to be included in school curriculums to reinforce respect for farmers’ property.

“I sit on access forums and the discussions are around facilitating responsible recreation but what does that mean? It doesn’t mean a thing when a section of society doesn’t know what goes on in the countryside.

“A field might be nice and green and pretty with buttercups but that field is a farmer’s shop floor.’’