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By Chris Brooks, Heritage Action
 
 
Unploughed section of bridleway. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
 
I am quite keen on the preservation of both our ancient history as well as the freedom to roam and explore it via the extensive network of public rights of way that crisscross much of our countryside. Therefore, following on from a post on The Modern Antiquarian forum by head-first regarding the destruction of a bridleway on the Marlborough Downs, I visited the site in question early on Monday morning. The  site lies 3.5km south of  Avebury and is accessed by driving as far up Gunsight Road as possible (it was heavily flooded along many sections that morning) and walking the rest of the way along the byway.
 
 
Ploughed section of bridleway in foreground, unploughed section of byway in background. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
 
At the point where the byway stops and the bridleway starts (approximately grid ref 10356690) the farmer has ploughed out the entire bridleway along the whole length of the field going south-westward (a distance of approximately 750m). You can see the difference in the soil between the bridleway and the actual field so it looks like it was there before. The fence boundary between the bridleway and fields to the east is still there but there is no fence on the other side. But then I don’t think there ever was, as at the other end of the field where the bridleway starts again there is no fence there either.
 
 
Ploughed section of bridleway in background, unploughed section of byway in foreground. Image credit and © Chris Brooks
 
There are plenty of private property signs telling you to keep out but no signs (that I could see) telling you the correct way to go. The Law and Environment website clearly states that –

 
Footpaths
 
Footpaths on [the] edge of a field must not be ploughed. Footpaths can be ploughed, if they cross fields. However, a minimum width of 1 metres must be made available within 14 days of ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore footpaths after ploughing.
 
Bridleways
 
Bridleways on the edge of a field must also not be ploughed except they cross over fields. Like footpaths, landowners must also give a minimum width of 2 metres within 14 days of commencing ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore bridleways after ploughing.
 
Other don’ts for landowners.
 
  • You cannot grow crops on a public right of way, however grass can be grown for hay and silage.
  • Dairy bulls over 10 months are not allowed to cross over a field with a right of way.
  • You cannot put up stiles or gates without the permission of your local authority.
  • You cannot put up misleading signs to prevent people from using a public right of way.
  • You are not allowed to harrass, intimidate (e.g. placing a fierce dog on public right of way) or prevent members of the public from using a public right of way.
  • It is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 to put up barbed wires, electric fences or exposed barb wire that prevents or obstructs a public right of way.
 
 

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