'I had just one rule': Farmer says closing walking trail was tough decision

Pat Dunne said the incident has left him feeling “frustration and annoyance”.
'I had just one rule': Farmer says closing walking trail was tough decision

Pat Dunne at the entrance to the walkway where he has withdrawn consent for public access to his lands via the 'Zig-Zags' trail at Glenmalure in Wicklow. Picture: Nick Bradshaw

Wicklow farmer Pat Dunne said taking the decision to close public access to his land has been “one of the toughest decisions” he and his family has ever had to make.

Speaking to the Irish Examiner, Mr Dunne told of the “frustration” over the matter after he was allegedly assaulted by a walker on his land on March 19.

The alleged incident occurred after Mr Dunne asked walkers visiting the route not to continue with dogs.

The well-known “Zig-Zags” walking track in Glenmalure is on private lands, providing access from the base of Carrawaystick Waterfall towards Lugnaquilla.

The Zig-Zags was an agreed access route, facilitated through a formal permissive access agreement between landowner Mr Dunne and County Wicklow Partnership.

Mr Dunne was one of the first landowners in the country to permit an agreed access route across his lands. However, following the incident this month, the Dunne family has now decided to call time on public access.

‘Frustrated and annoyed’

Mr Dunne said the incident has left him feeling “frustration and annoyance”.

For the last 16 years, the Dunne family had permitted open access to Lugnaquilla via the Zig-Zags. However, it was not “plain sailing” during that time.

“Down the years, we would have had incidents where we got verbal abuse and things like that off people,” he said.

“Margaret, my wife, and I often said that it’s not worth it. But then we would draw back from that and think, well, 99% of the walkers are the most decent, honourable people that you would come across. And we have made a huge amount of friends through walkers.”

‘Just one rule’

Mr Dunne explained his family had “just one rule” for anyone accessing the route. His sheep have been attacked by dogs before, so to protect the farm animals, he asks that dogs be kept off the land.

The farm is part of the Sustainable Uplands Agri-Environment Scheme.

“One of the recommendations was that maybe we would try cattle on the hill,” Mr Dunne said.

“So we did that a couple of years ago. I got Galloway cattle here, and I put them out on the mountain. They’d been working very well on it for vegetation, the ecologist has been absolutely delighted with it. But those cows are calving at the moment, so having a strange dog among calving cows does not work.

“When we started in the beginning, we used to allow people to bring dogs. The rule was that dogs had to be on leads, but we realised that just wasn’t working,” Mr Dunne said.

“Eventually, we realised we needed to just ban the dogs completely. We’ve always had people who would be trying to get through, some would coax, some would give abuse and all sorts of things.

“We’ve tried signage... some pay no attention to it; they don’t think it’s for them to be bothered with.”

Worst of all, Mr Dunne explained the issue was getting worse.

‘Final straw’

However, the “final straw” was the incident on March 19, he said.

“Verbal abuse is one thing, but when it comes to physical, that’s a totally different thing,” he said.

Describing the incident, he said he and his wife had seen a man with a youth bringing three dogs on leads up the track.

Mr Dunne said they had “pleaded with them” to leave but their requests were “ignored”, adding that he then stood in front of the man on the walkway, and told him “he couldn’t bring the dogs up”. Mr Dunne said he was subsequently “attacked by the man, knocking me to the ground”, before the pair with dogs continued up the mountain.

Mr Dunne said his family has been “absolutely overwhelmed” by messages of support received since the incident occurred.

While he is disappointed to no longer be able to share the scenic route with walkers, and is conscious of how many people respected the lands and understood the responsibilities that came with having that access, he feels it was the right thing for him to do.

Greater safeguards

Chair of Mountaineering Ireland’s access and conservation committee Alan Lauder said he is “sickened and disheartened” that this incident occurred.

“He has worked closely with those in the access and recreation community to enable responsible access over his land and, by doing so, has helped thousands of people to enjoy the Wicklow Mountains,” Mr Lauder said.

Meanwhile, the Irish Farmers’ Association has called for greater safeguards for landowners.

“Farmer intimidation is more common than might be assumed. This was at the extreme end, but there are some recreational users who simply dismiss the farmer’s wishes and do what they want. It’s totally unacceptable,” IFA national hill farming chair Caillin Conneely said this week.

“Thousands of people engage in walking and other recreational activities in the countryside every week, and they do the right thing, but this is concerning, particularly during the lambing season. 

"Those who enter onto privately owned land, for the purpose of recreation, do so because of the goodwill and tolerance of landowners.”

Mr Conneely said there needs to be a “greater awareness of this fact”, along with a “greater enforcement of the ‘No Dogs Allowed’ policy”.

“Otherwise, landowners will simply withdraw access and everyone loses out,” he added.

Dog controls

Stronger regulations on dog controls went before Cabinet this week.

These proposals included a doubling in fines under the Control of Dogs Act, and a centralised database for traceability.

The IFA said that this is a “step in the right direction”.

IFA sheep chair Kevin Comiskey said that enforcement will be key to the success of the proposed regulations.

“Far too many farmers, particularly sheep farmers, are in fear of a dog attack and the devastation it can leave. I would hope the resources are made available to bring about changes,” he said.

“Ultimately, there must be a cultural change among dog owners about how they approach farmland and what they think is acceptable,” Mr Comiskey added.

As part of the ongoing Garda investigations into the alleged assault in Wicklow, no arrests have been made.

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Karen Walsh

Karen Walsh

Law of the Land


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