Rural Terrorism in Norfolk
30th September 2013
About 15 years ago I sold my farm on the other side of the county. A public road ran through the length of the farm with a particularly wide verge on one side of it (up to 30 yards in places).
I had always understood the verge to be in my ownership, reinforced in this belief by the fact that I received the Wayleave & Compensation payments for the poles supporting the electricity power lines, situated along its entire length.
However, the solicitors of my prospective purchaser discovered that Norfolk County Council disputed my ownership, claiming the land as their own. Rather than abort the sale of the arable land I decided to withdraw the verge (3 acres) from the sale.
Once the sale of the farm had been completed, I engaged a solicitor to try to get to the bottom of this issue. A number of letters went back and forth, with the last one that I received being fairly pessimistic and implying that the Council would continually object to my claim of ownership.
With many other things going on in my life, I put the problem to one side and at least had the annual income of the poles (about £250), as a consolation.
Last week, I had a call from a lady, I will call her ‘X’, who owns one of the four houses along the verge, to inform me that ‘fly-grazing’ had been going on throughout the summer. Three ponies were tethered and moved regularly by a variety of aggressive and intimidating men. These men were apparently known to the police and had a reputation for dealing with their enemies in their own way; one farmer had his barns burned down.
Another lady householder in the lane had made the mistake of remonstrating with these individuals and was met with a torrent of foul mouthed abuse and went away extremely frightened. Both of these women had recently purchased farmworkers’ cottages and spent large sums of money improving them.
‘X’ herself was now feeling the same way as the pony’s tether pins were slowly and inexorably moving towards her own house. She asked three local farmers if they could plough the verge to render it un-grazeable. In all three cases, the farmers said that they were afraid of reprisals if they, or their tractors, were seen on the verge.
Another lady, who had put her house on the market, discovered to her horror that no buyers were interested once they saw the tethered piebald ponies in the vicinity.
‘X’ checked the Land Registry records and my name emerged. She then Googled my name and found my Chelmsford office. I sent ‘X’ all my correspondence in connection with the verge with my consent to talk to the solicitor I had used. To my pleasant surprise, she discovered that a final letter had been sent to me confirming that I was the owner. This letter had never reached me, possibly because I was moving house at the time.
Having digested this, my thoughts turned to what might happen on the verge, with perhaps some traveller caravans setting up pitches resulting in an utter nightmare thereafter for the local residents. I told ‘X’ that I would personally plough the verge, but first I would have to mulch the long rough grass to prevent it bunging up in the plough. My own mulcher was under repair and my plough is no longer usable, but ‘X’ contacted the local farmers who, between them, found me the machines I needed.
I left home on my tractor at 5.00am on Friday 27th September and within 10 miles (of a journey of nearly 50) the tractor stopped in a very narrow road and would not start. I reluctantly got a local farmer out of bed to tow me to the safety of his yard. I called my son to help, who is very mechanical, and we got it going (loose wire).
The same problem occurred again on the main A-road, where I carried out an additional Heath Robinson repair which did the trick for the rest of the journey. However, I failed to replace the engine cover properly and it fell off into the road, thankfully just missing being driven over by the following car! I also discovered that various linkage pins, etc, (required to attach following implements) that should have been with the tractor were not anywhere to be found, so more time
was lost buying replacements.
I found the mulcher, which did a good job, and was pleased to see that the ponies had gone. Whether this was a coincidence, or that word had got around that the owner was coming with a plough, I do not know, but it meant that the aggressive males were less likely to appear. I had been concerned that one would stand in front of the tractor, one behind, and a third would let the tyres down.
On my way to collect the plough from another farmer, the tractor stopped again and no amount of fiddling would get it going. I was obliged to call out a professional mechanic, who could not be with me for a couple of hours. At different times, the local farmer and a gamekeeper came past and I caught up with 15 years of gossip. I was left in no doubt about the unpleasantness of the men engaged in the fly-grazing. Whilst waiting for the mechanic, by chance, Radio Suffolk telephoned me and I carried out a recorded interview on migrant workers on farms.
Eventually, I got underway again, collected the plough and made an encouraging start. By this time it was 7.30pm and getting dark. The tractor was not equipped with rear working lights and, in any case, I had assumed that I could do everything inside a day. My long suffering son Edgar came and collected me.
We returned on Saturday morning, 28th September. I set about the ploughing, which went surprisingly well. What I had not anticipated was the number of people driving past, tooting their horns and giving the thumbs-up. Three people actually stopped the tractor and asked to shake my hand. A person I will call ‘A’ appeared with a bag of good things to eat and drink, which was very much appreciated!
I have let the locals know that the verge is now for sale and I feel that I may have two or three willing purchasers who can divide it up between them.
It is worrying, to say the least, that such aggressive individuals who are known to the police can terrorise a locality in this way. I may find that 50 miles is not far enough away for me to be personally safe from these men, and a visit could be imminent?