Most Foot and Mouth restrictions have been officially lifted in Wiltshire – or have they? KAREN DOUGLAS discovers some inconsistencies in local policy, which circle researchers should be aware of…
There still seems to be some confusion over restrictions on rights of way in Wiltshire due to the Foot and Mouth outbreak. Although Avebury Ring is now open, the Avenue remains closed. The reason for the continued closure is that a local farmer is now grazing his sheep amongst the stones! Confused? Well perhaps it’s understandable, because when I spoke to Wiltshire County Council this week they assured me the Avenue was open and that the warden must simply not yet have taken down the ‘no entry’ signs. It is here that the confusion begins.
Essentially there exists a complicated conflict of interest between the local council, the National Trust (the heritage organisation who own Avebury and the land around it) and the local farmers. Apparently, the Avenue is what they term ‘a Permissible’, which means we can access to the land, but only with permission of the Trust. From what I can understand, after having spoken to the National Trust, they have given a local farmer permission to graze his sheep on this strip of land as some kind of concessionary move. It seems that local farmers have been concerned about the re-opening of the site and so the Trust has given them the Avenue on which to graze their animals. Anyone who has visited this area before will know that local farmers use the stone ring and Avenue for grazing at various times throughout the year - this helps keep the grass short and in good condition.
The crux of the conflict of interest seems to be that of the local council wanting there to be as much accessibility as possible, as opposed to the farmers, ever fearful of the spread of the disease (though there have been only a handful of cases in the county). In-between is the National Trust who wish to give as much public access as is responsible, whilst keeping the good faith of the local farmers. Hence the very confused picture. However, West Kennett Longbarrow is now open, as is the Ridgeway, which are ‘rights of way’. The edict from the local council is that all public rights of way are now open, excepting those which cross farm buildings and farm yards, or run in close proximity to farm animals. From my conversations with those in authority, none can give me an estimated time for the re-opening of the Avenue, apart from that it will re-open when the farmer has finished grazing his sheep. They asked me to ring again in two weeks.
Now, there is also confusion over access to Knap Hill and Adam’s Grave. I understand these were temporally opened two weeks ago one morning, to be closed again on the same day. This is a very similar situation to the Avebury dilemma, as cattle are grazed regularly on these sites, however, I do have it on good authority that these restrictions should be lifted within a week or so and public access restored.
If you are unsure about access, you might find the following telephone numbers useful, especially as there is a £5000 fine for transgressions.
A. Wiltshire County Council (please ask for the Rights of Way department): 01225 713000 - please note that Avebury, Silbury, and The Sanctuary etc. are all classed as within the Kennett area.
B. The Alexander Keiller Museum (for contact with National Trust representatives): 01672 539250 – note that this number is only for use if your enquiry is about Avebury access.
Of course, at this early stage of the season it is difficult to yet say how farmers will view circle researchers and tourists wishing to visit their fields. Only time will tell…
(With grateful thanks to Michael Glickman for his assistance.)