CUMBRIAN farmers are appealing to walkers to enjoy the countryside responsibly.

Many feel that the number of walkers using farmers’ fields for their daily exercise is putting livestock and workers at increased risk.

Farmers across the county have spoken of fears they could contract the deadly Covid-19 disease, because so many people are touching gates as they open them to access their land.

And in many cases, they are left open, leaving livestock - including lambing ewes - to wander onto country lanes where they are at a heightened risk of injury.

Tracie Roberts, an accountant at JF Hornby and Co, in Ulverston, says the message from farmers is clear. “I am in close contact with all of my clients, and while at the moment, their businesses are in relative terms doing quite well - they are all reporting a huge increase in the number of people and dog walkers using their land. That’s the case across the county.

“The issue here is that so many people are touching their gates as they open and close them, the farmers are fearful of catching Covid-19; in fact a member of the farming community in Cumbria sadly died from the coronavirus and his family are convinced he caught it by touching an infected gate.

“A further challenge for them is that many people are leaving gates open and livestock is escaping. We are in prime lambing season and this is a crucial time for farmers. They cannot afford for lambing ewes to be wandering along country lanes.”

People using common land where there are no footpaths – for instance moorland – should also make sure they stick to the rules.

National Farmers Union (NFU) North West regional director David Hall said: “We all recognise the benefits of getting out and enjoying the countryside which our farmers look after and maintain, especially at a difficult time when people need to take extra care to maintain their physical and mental health, but it’s vital we all keep to the rules. The health of those living and working in the countryside also has to be safeguarded to ensure that safe, local, high-standard British food keeps coming, and walkers need to be aware of their role in protecting rural people and their livelihoods. It is also a busy time in the farming calendar with plenty of young lambs and calves around and we ask dog owners to take extra precautions when walking through farmland.”

Tracie said that feedback from her portfolio of clients in the dairy and beef sectors remained relatively upbeat, with a majority continuing to feed the supply chain. But this, she said, might change depending on the continued length and severity of the lockdown measures.