Preliminary results from a survey of farmers on the issue of public access to land “is a cause of real concern”, according to the farm organisation that ran the survey.

The Irish Natura and Hill Farmers’ Association (INHFA) is currently conducting the survey with its membership, and have released initial findings.

The association says that the results “highlight the vulnerable position many landowners are in when it comes to dealing with members of the public looking to access their lands”.

The survey asked farmers two specific questions: If they had ever received abuse from someone wishing to access their land; and if they had ever felt threatened by leisure users on their land.

“While the majority of farmers – 59% – have not received abuse, and 62% indicated that they have never felt threatened, we are still very concerned that a sizable minority have been abused and felt threatened,” said Pheilim Molloy, the INHFA vice president, speaking this morning (Wednesday, May 11) after the release of the preliminary results.

“When we examine the detail in the comments, it is even more shocking what farmers and landowners are having to deal with,” Molloy added.

He argued :”Colourful language and aggressive behaviour are quite normal from walkers when asked to not bring their dogs, with farmers often told in no uncertain terms that the dog would not bother sheep and to mind their own business.”

The INHFA vice president went on to say that a number of incidents of “clear threats” made against farmers prompts even greater concern.

Molloy cited some examples of this.

He claimed that, on one occasion, a farmer challenged a group who had dogs without leads, only to be told that they would “do it again and take care of any locals that tried to stop them”.

On another occasion, Molly noted, a farmer was told by a group that they were “going home for a gun to shoot my cattle and a knife to gut me like a fish”.

Another prominent issue highlighted by farmers is “thrill seekers” with off-road vehicles.

“These people see hill land as their playground and are quite willing to smash gates, tear down fences and destroy pathways with no regard for the landowners or the habitats these farmers are trying to protect,” Molloy claimed.

Concerns around hunting and camping were also highlighted, with one survey respondent stating – according to the INHFA – that there were “three men camping on commonage lands with a high-powered rifle mounted on a tripod that was obviously being used for target practice”.

“While accepting that the vast majority of those that walk our hills and engage in leisure activity are not involved in threatening and bullish behaviour, there is an undercurrent of thuggish behaviour that needs to be addressed,” Molloy asserted.

He noted that the INHFA will issue a policy paper on public access “in the very near future”, which will be informed by the results of the survey.