New government policy and industry intervention is being urged to better manage the growing pressure being heaped on the countryside’s narrow roads by increasingly large modern agricultural machinery.
Campaigners in North Yorkshire say larger vehicles are putting unprecedented strain on the road networks both around and through their villages.
The sheer size of some machinery is damaging wildlife-friendly features of the landscape such as hedgerows and grass verges, while the safety of children playing nearby is also a cause for concern.
Christopher Stratton, of Oulston near Easingwold, who is chairman of Oulston Parish Meeting, said damage to hedgerows and grass verges in his village by a combine harvester on Friday typified a much more widespread problem.
“The size of the agricultural machinery now means that there are an increasing number of lanes which cannot accommodate this kit without causing similar damage to verges and hedges and the carriageways.
“This is going to affect more rural communities and lanes unless the agricultural industry shows more restraint and care.”
He said the agricultural industry’s evolution to larger farms operated more often by people who do not live locally, as well as their reliance on contractors from outside the area, meant landowners’ priorities had changed.
Councillor Caroline Patmore, a member of Hambleton District Council, agreed that the rural road network is under too much strain.
Coun Patmore, who represents the Raskelf and White Horse ward, said: “This is an enormous problem and no-one knows how to cope with it.
“It’s something the Government needs to pick on and which needs proper legislation and policies for larger vehicles.”
Coun Patmore said some form of licensing which only allowed farmers in appropriate locations to use larger machinery could be an option, although she envisaged problems with ensuring such rules worked.
She added: “We want to support farmers here, it’s the biggest industry in the county, but there has to be limits to the damage these machines are causing.”
Mr Stratton said he believes the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) should be involved in a campaign to encourage farmers and farm contractors “to have greater respect for rural lanes”.
The NFU said that it encourages its members to plan for using the roads and that this was something that many do by rotating which fields they need to access for food production throughout the year.
August sees an increase in agricultural traffic as the hectic harvest season gets underway.
James Copeland, regional environment and land use adviser at the NFU, said: “This is a busy time of the year for farmers and we advise our members to follow best practice through a variety of business guides and through our Stay Safe, Stay Legal campaign that we are promoting at the moment.
“National colleagues also meet regularly with the Health and Safety Executive and the police to talk about these issues.
“If there are local concerns, my advice would be to try and address these with the individuals involved.”
As part of the NFU’s campaign, farmers are being reminded to ensure vehicles and trailers are roadworthy, that their indicators are working and can clearly be seen, and if a large queue of traffic forms behind the tractor, to pull over when it is safe to do so.