Tips for smallholders
How well do you know your responsibilities as a smallholder? Julia Thorley offers a checklist
Some of the responsibilities that fall to all landowners, no matter how small their plots, come under the banner of common courtesy. Some, however, have legal implications.
Rights of way
The official government guidance is: As the owner or occupier of land with a public right of way across it, you must keep the route visible and not obstruct or endanger users. A right of way can mean a footpath, bridleway, restricted byway or one open to all traffic. Your local authority will be able to confirm whether there is a right of way over your land and what category it is. You must leave the official way markers in place, but you can also add your own, if the path isn’t clear.
The government website www.gov.uk/guidance/public-rights-of-way-landownerresponsibilities has full details of what you can and can’t do, including such fine detail as the exact measurements of paths and boundaries. Broadly speaking, though, you’re not allowed to obstruct a right of way with a temporary or permanent structure (and that includes a locked gate) and you must keep vegetation under control.
If you have any animals on your smallholding, you will already be keeping them safe from predators and passing chancers, for the benefit of the animals and your own peace of mind. By law, however, bulls of recognised dairy breeds over 10 months of age must not be kept in a field that has a public right of way running through it. Other breeds of that age must be in a field with cows or heifers if there is public access. If a bull is in the field, there must be a notice to that effect.
Horses may be kept loose in fields crossed by public rights of way, as long as they are not known to be dangerous. If your smallholding is on land run by an allotment society it may well have its own local rules in respect of what birds and animals may be kept in the field and under what conditions.
If you want to use a shotgun for pest control, you will need to apply to your local police authority. They will need to be sure that you intend to use and store your shotgun safely, and will check that you plan to buy something of the appropriate power and calibre for your needs. If approved, your firearms certificate will be valid for five years and you will need it to buy ammunition.
The police will also direct you in safe use and storage of your firearm. It goes without saying, I hope, that you should never shoot over a footpath, although there is no legal minimum distance in relation to shooting near to a footpath. You may shoot as close to it as is safe and sensible. Your firearms
certificate will define the land over which you are permitted to shoot.
Caring for the environment
Your smallholding is providing you with food and perhaps you depend on it for your livelihood. Even so, consider the effects of your actions on the environment and try to live in harmony with it. If possible, leave the odd patch here and there unmanaged.
If you want to move or remove a hedging boundary, you might need permission. Your local authority can advise you of its criteria, such as the length and importance of the hedge. If a hedge is less than 20m long and could be classed as domestic, you don’t need permission, but it’s worth checking if you’re in any doubt. Some individual trees might be subject to a preservation order. Again, your local authority will know.
Hedgerows without gaps are better for wildlife, such as birds, insects, butterflies, amphibians and reptiles, and mammals such as dormice and bats. You must not do any work on hedges and trees that might harm nesting birds or destroy their nests. For most species this means during the main nesting and breeding season from March 1 to August 31. If pruning or cutting back any native tree or plant that has nuts or berries on it, try to leave some uncut for the wildlife.
If you suspect you have protected species living on your land, such as bats or some reptiles, check with a wildlife surveyor – start with your local authority – who will be able to advise you on what you should and shouldn’t do. Some plants are also protected, for example fen orchids.
Finally, get to know your neighbours; repair shared boundaries promptly and make sure your bad habits, such as the occasional weeding lapse, don’t affect other people. It makes sense to keep an eye out for strangers and damage, and to encourage your neighbours to let you know if they see anything they think needs your attention.
You’re not allowed to obstruct a right of way
Know the rules about rights of way
Check whether you need a firearms certificate
Know the rules about keeping a bull in a field with a public right of way running through it
Hedgerows without gaps are better for widlife