SHAWN MCAVINUE and ALEXIA JOHNSTON
Farmers “misusing” the Otago Central Rail Trail have been slammed by the Department of Conservation and Otago Central Rail Trail Charitable Trust.
Department of Conservation (Doc) Central Otago operations manager Mike Tubbs said about six farmers had been driving machinery and stock on the trail between Wedderburn and Middlemarch in the past six months and had damaged it.
Manure was being left on the trail, and farm machinery and stock hooves had damaged the gravel surface, he said.
Doc would take action against any farmer damaging the trail.
In the latest Taieri Pet newsletter, trust chairwoman Kate Wilson, who is a Dunedin city councillor and Middlemarch farmer, said there had been “some disappointing reports of landowners misusing the trail”.
Some farmers were using the trail as a laneway. The hooves of cattle had caused “significant deterioration” of the trail surface and it “detrimentally affects the trail experience”, she said in the newsletter.
Omakau-Chatto Creek sheep farmer Bill Hinchey has three crossings for the rail trail on his property which he uses from time to time.
He has gates for channelling stock across the rail trail, which he has a right to do, but it was something he tried to limit.
Mr Hinchey had also accessed the rail trail about three times a year for rabbit-control purposes, something he has never billed Doc for.
On other occasions, he has received a phone call to say some of his stock were on the trail, a scenario that was, more often than not, caused by a cyclist not shutting a gate behind them.
Strath Taieri Community Board chairman Barry Williams said farmers needed to use the trail.
As a result, cyclists should consider sheep and cattle manure as part of the trail experience.
In previous similar incidents, both parties found a resolution, such as formalising an easement with conditions for responsible use, he said.
Mr Williams, of Middlemarch, said Cr Wilson should have approached farmers directly rather than airing her concerns in a public newsletter.
Some farmers had land on both sides of the rail trail and needed to cross it, and cyclists should tolerate manure being on the trail, he said.
A bit of sheep or cow manure on their wheels “wouldn’t hurt, would it? It’ll let them know they’re in a rural part of the trail”.
Board member and sheep and beef farmer Mark O’Neill, of Hyde, said after hearing of Cr Wilson’s concerns he talked to farm owners near the trail.
A farmer he talked to had six points where the trail crossed his property.
Mr O’Neill checked three of the crossings and found “a wee bit of mud” on the trail.
“Once the mud dries up – it’ll be gone.”
Anything left on the trail by farmers could be easily avoided by cyclists, he said.
He had seen no evidence of farmers using the trail as a laneway.
Cr Wilson, speaking to Allied Press on Tuesday, said she wrote the “friendly reminder” in the newsletter, rather than approach landowners directly because “it’s not my job to be policeman”.
“I don’t want anyone getting into trouble but sometimes they need to be reminded they shouldn’t be doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”
Her main concern was stock damaging the trail surface, but if mud or manure was left on the trail, farmers should remove it.
“It would be nice for farmers at the end of the season to think about cleaning that up.”