Local News

Farm facing closure over river inaction

Wednesday 21 October 2020

A Hertford farm may be forced to close after a local watercourse dried up and a government agency failed to act.

Owner Morag Tait is "close to giving up" her rare breeds farm north of Hertford after a branch of the River Beane known as the Molewood Millrace dried up.

The land was formerly part of the Goldings Estate and the landscaped parkland is listed by Historic England, having been considerably altered by Robert Smith in 1870 to provide his newly built mansion with an idyllic rural view.

The millrace runs along the eastern boundary of the farm creating a "wet fence" between the pasture, public footpath number 107, and the busy A119. 

But a breach in the river bank occurred upstream of the farmland in September 2019, causing all of the water from the River Beane to be diverted through a branch of the river known as Goldings Canal, leaving the natural barrier dry.

Consequently the rare breed cattle have been able to walk across the riverbed and onto the road, endangering motorists and themselves.

The farmer went to considerable lengths and expenditure to secure the pasture with temporary fencing in the hope that, following an appeal to the Environment Agency, the water would soon be returned to the wet fence created by the millrace.

The dried up watercourse

Unfortunately the cattle have now learned the route through and have continued to break down the fencing.

Ms.Tait is acutely aware of the dangers this poses to motorists and the cattle, and is distressed by the constant need to be vigilant over her free-range livestock whilst managing the other aspects of her business.

In July, she invited the Environment Agency to undertake a site visit along with other stakeholders, in the hope of a more immediate resolution to the issue.

In reply to a letter sent by the Molewood Millrace Action Group and undersigned by the many stakeholders including Ms Tait, the EA acknowledged the wider local impact and going forward representatives of the community will form an advisory group to cooperate with the EA.

To date, the EA has not given any indication of timescales and has not engaged directly with Ms.Tait.

Her farmland is listed as Catchment Sensitive due to its historic importance and as such she must comply with tight regulations laid down by the agency to protect the river. The farmer believes that in return, the agency has a duty of care to assist her when the river under their care changes and disrupts her business.

The delay by the agency has left her facing a police caution for failing to secure her livestock as well as an estimated bill for £25k to urgently install permanent, robust post and rail fencing along the dried up river. In addition to the cost, she feels the solid post and rail fencing will not be sympathetic to the original pastoral design.

Ms.Tait set up the organic rare breeds farm two and a half years ago and has not yet seen a return on her investment.

She fears that the unexpected bills for fencing, along with a possible fine and damage to her reputation, will force her to close the farm side of her business. The farm is run along the principles of organic Polyface Farming, a method by which animals are provided with the habitat which allows them to express their natural instincts, working alongside each other to organically manage the grass pasture giving them a happier, healthier life. 

"I don’t want it on my record that I don’t take care of my animals. That’s the last thing you want as a farmer." she said.

Update 28/10/20: The Environment Agency have responded to the claims by issuing this statement.

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