The Saga of the Yellow Peril

A story from a public rights-of-way officer, somewhere in Britain:

Monday, I served a notice on the landowner to clear the pathway. This farmer had caused us trouble before. I was out walking the rights-of-way and found one path completely blocked by an oilseed crop. I was removing fine yellow dust from everything I wore and drove for the next few hours. (For anyone who doesn't know what oilseed is, it is also called rapeseed and canola, and is intensely yellow stuff.)

Well, surprise surprise, Wednesday arrived and a telephone call from the son who informed that he had done what was required. I had then to jump onto my trusty charger and go to inspect the crops. Well, he had made an attempt but the path was not the statutory 1 metre minimum in width and the plants were falling back across the path. I therefore telephoned him to advise that I was not totally satisfied and that some more attention to the width was required.

A second phone call said that he had made the paths a good yard wide. I suspected from the conversation that he was a little fed up with the toing and froing, and he said that he would do something to prevent going to all this trouble next year. I said to him that we had been telling him that for years. Anyhow, sceptical as ever, I went out on the Sunday morning to inspect the situation. Admittedly he had made another attempt but had still failed to put one section of path on its correct route.

On the Monday I gathered my troops (2 rangers, Paul and Andy, complete with 4 wheel drive Toyota pickup truck and 36" cut 4 wheel drive mower) and set out for the offending crop determined to sort it out once and for all. I was met on site by the secretary of the local branch of the Ramblers Association, who as usual cast a gloomy eye over the crop. (He is an unhappy man, reckoning that we never do anything. He always reminds me of the Queen in Alice In Wonderland, but instead of "off with his head," his stock phrase is "prosecute him, prosecute him!".)

We removed the machine from the trailer and set to cutting a long 100m swathe through the crop. It was most satisfying, since this man has been nothing but a pain in the ***** for 20 years. We had just finished when someone I didn't know arrived on the scene, shouting.

He turned out to be the handyman/gardener of a chap who had just bought the piece of land over which we had just demolished the crop!

A hasty piece of diplomacy on the mobile alleviated any problems here, and since the farmer was not, shall we say, the most revered person in the area the new owner was none too fussed about the crop. However, within minutes of our completing the work, and while I was still on the phone, the antagonist himself arrived. To say he was none to pleased would be an understatement, but I just advised him that he had received notice of our intentions should he fail to comply, that he had failed to act, and that the Council was well within its rights. He changed tack then, pointing out it was no longer his crop, so I said well that's OK then because we have already spoken to the new landowner. I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He ranted and raved about the loss of this valuable crop and that we ought to be ashamed at depriving poor people of food.

Discretion being the better part of valour, I let him rant and rave. I was certainly pleased that I wasn't on my own. He then went to park at the entrance to his field and, since we had completed the section which caused most concern and since I didn't want further confrontation, we decided to remove ourselves from the area as soon as possible.

As an aside, the County Council have just done the same thing through a wheat and oilseed field in their area belonging to the same person. He threatened them with a $2m lawsuit until the County Council threatened him with subsequent prosecution for the trouble he had caused by not complying with the law. The County Rights of Way Manager and myself have also just had a meeting with the landowner and his solicitor and it would appear that we will not have any further problems. I say that with all my toes and fingers crossed. I will let you know next year what happens!

This account written by Andy.

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