I was rather relieved to see the acquittal of Nottinghamshire farmer Paul Waterfall, accused of the manslaughter of a rambler who was killed by a bull on his land.
It would in my opinion, have been totally unacceptable for the farmer to be held at fault for such an occurrence since he had never had a problem with the animal and therefore had no grounds for thinking it might have been a threat to ramblers.
But the fact that the judge himself flagged up that there is still no consensus of expert opinion of the rights and wrongs of keeping livestock in fields crossed by rights of way, does mean that this issue is one which needs to be looked at urgently and tackled at national level.
Ever since the arrival of the Countryside and Rights of Way legislation the onus has appeared to be shifted very much on to farmers to make the countryside safe for anyone who wants to amble over it. The Act sent a clear, if entirely incorrect, message to people that they would pretty well wander where they liked in the countryside and farmers would have to accommodate them.
The result has been an increase in the number of incidents involving walkers and cattle with in each case the farmer being painted as the villain for daring to allow livestock to graze in fields that were used by walkers.
The strength of feeling against farmers can best be summed up by the response of Nottinghamshire Police to the verdict in the Waterfall case: a spokesman said the force was "disappointed" with the decision, when one would have thought it should have been content to see justice, whichever way it went.
I am not going to comment on the conflicting evidence and I have every sympathy for the victim's family but this case should come as a warning to all walkers and ramblers who march around in the countryside as though they own the place and who frequently put themselves in situations of peril. A little more common sense and a little more thought could have avoided many of the confrontations between cattle and humans that have resulted in such tragic consequences.
Farmers have seen nothing from the CROW legislation except an increase in dog fouling, attacks on sheep, gates being left open, unfounded animal welfare complaints and theft. Who are the real villains in all this?
As usual, Labour ran away from any responsibility for the safe operation of the CROW legislation and as a result we have a very confused and dangerous situation in the countryside, and one which needs to be clarified as soon as possible. There needs to be a clear code of conduct for countryside users as well as a clear and reasonable set of guidelines for farmers, a framework within which they can operate their businesses pretty well as normal without being blamed for each self-inflicted injury or mishap – or becoming the victims of costly and ill-advised criminal prosecutions.