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Letter: What’s More Important to Our Council, Cash for Cattle, or Caring for Disabled?

Published on: 19 May, 2021
Updated on: 19 May, 2021

By Karen Robinson

In response to: Having Cattle in Riverside Park Makes Access Difficult for Disabled

Is our borough council encouraging the spread of Covid-19 and discriminating against the disabled? With exercise options limited, Burpham Riverside Walk is a beautiful place to enjoy fresh air, freedom and fitness.

From near Bowyers Lock to Stoke Lock with river and towpath on one side, lake and fields on the other and board-walked wetlands between, whether running, cycling, walking the dog or just inducing the children to join the real world, it provides a peaceful haven for everyone to enjoy.

As long as you are not disabled. I have to use a mobility scooter.
I believe the council are contravening the Equality Act. That stipulates the disabled must not be treated less favourably than the able-bodied. Gates sit at four critical points of entry to the lake of the Riverside Walk, chest-high metal monstrosities in pairs, fencing on each side creating a metal pen.

For those in wheelchairs, to reach up and pull aside the spring-loaded mechanism is very difficult, before either dragging back the gate with one hand while executing some nifty wheeled manoeuvres with the other, or, when unfastened, pushing the gate open with feet or leg, presuming one has use of them, then performing the painful gymnastics again for the next gate.

For us in mobility scooters, the gates are impassable on our own. But there are alternatives. We can sit and wait for a passer-by and ask for help, hoping for someone inside to help you get out later. In summer, one could be along within 10 minutes. In winter, wrap up well, you could be in for a long wait.

We scooter-users have to bring an able-bodied person. I am lucky, my husband is retired and available to accompany me, others are not. This adds to his burden of cooking, housework and gardening.

Why are the gates there? Cattle. For a few months in the summer, the fields of the Riverside Walk are leased by the council to a farmer. Those of us who use the area were never asked for an opinion, probably because we would tell them exactly what we thought.

Peacefully grazing in distant, flower-strewn meadows, cattle are lovely to behold, but a couple of tons bearing down on you is not. These curious beasts appear to enjoy the company and the herd will happily approach to investigate.

That is usually greatly unappreciated. They have knocked over children and chased adults, they are intrigued by mobility scooters and wheelchairs and will crowd around so closely they can knock you off, and have done.

Cow pats are everywhere. Unfortunately, the farmers are, unlike the rest of us, not obliged to gather up in poo bags anything their animals deposit.

The reason for allowing the cattle and thereby the gates is unclear to everyone except the council, who are getting paid for it. They tell us that without the cattle grazing the fields would become overgrown and turn into a wilderness.

Last year, due to Covid-19, the cows did not graze and the field survived the ravages of nature by being mowed. Once.

Over the years, many people have complained to the council about the cattle or the gates impeding access for the disabled, I have been in contact with a Mr Hendryk Jurk, the countryside manager of the Parks and Leisure Services and Mr Tom Childs, SANGs officer for the same department.

As Mr Childs was conducting an access audit at the time of our correspondence I suggested the only credible way for his audit to succeed was if he used it as a disabled person. I offered either to go with him to point out the difficulties, or the use of my mobility scooter so he could encounter them first-hand. I didn’t get a reply.

Repeatedly, we put bicycle locks around the gate levers keeping them open and left notices asking not to remove them because they allow access for the disabled and help prevent the spread of Covid-19. Even in winter, with no cattle, they were cut off.

So now we have to ask the borough council, what is more important to them, money for allowing cattle to graze or access for the disabled to enjoy nature and help prevent spread of Covid-19?

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test 4 Responses to Letter: What’s More Important to Our Council, Cash for Cattle, or Caring for Disabled?

  1. Jim Allen Reply

    May 19, 2021 at 9:17 pm

    How can anyone disagree with Karen? There is simply no counterargument.

  2. Julian Sheppard Reply

    May 22, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    I don’t want to pretend that gates are no problem for lone disabled people. The council needs to consider how to minimise this obstacle.

    But surely the council is to be commended for using the more natural method of cattle grazing to keep scrubland from taking over, rather than the environmentally unfriendly use of tractor mowers.

    • Jim Allen Reply

      May 22, 2021 at 4:02 pm

      The nature reserve is not “scrubland” but a recognised nature reserve. It has the longest list of grasses and plants in the borough and is used as a student “laboratory” for nature courses at Surrey University. As for a natural method of mowing, the cattle have to be transported thus there is an environmentally unfriendly element to their presence as well.

      The annual cutting by tractor is hardly environmentally damaging and should be balanced against the overall safety of more than 400 visitors per day to the site. Mixing cattle with humans is not visitor-friendly. It should be noted the HSE says, on average, four or five people are killed in accidents involving cattle each year.

  3. Ross Connell Reply

    May 24, 2021 at 11:25 am

    I have been in continual contact with Hendryk Jurk, the GBC countryside manager in an effort to have specific, precise dates as to when grazing occurs in SANG areas such as the Riverside and Chantries.

    There is sufficient pasture land for cattle grazing in Surrey without resorting to cosy relationships between GBC and a local farmer.

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