Borough dementia-friendly farm faces devastating costs after travellers break onto locked field
The owner of the UK's only dementia-friendly sensory farm is calling for changes to the law after facing a Â£20,000 fine because travellers broke onto her land.
Christine Dickenson, 52, who runs the Hope Sensory View Farm in Astley, said she had “nowhere to turn” when 34 caravans pitched up on a field on her not-for-profit farm back in July.
The farm, which is open throughout the year, offers visitors the chance to fish, feed and look after the animals and do arts and crafts as well as other activities in a tranquil surrounding.
Despite trying to protect her land from intruders, Christine was “heartbroken” to find that the locked gates had been broken into in order for the travellers to gain access.
Shortly after they arrived, the former nursing assistant contacted police, but was told that they would not be able to evict the group.
She then visited the site herself and asked the group to move on. Six caravans now remain.
On Sunday, her situation went from bad to worse, when one of the group’s Husky dogs broke into her farm and attacked the goats, causing one of them serious injury.
“My neighbour had all of his chickens killed,” said Christine. “The same dog came in under our fence and ripped my goat’s neck.
“It’s been so stressful. It’s heartbreaking to be honest, we feel like we have been let down by the law.
“We have had help from the community, members of the public have offered to come and clean up when the travellers have moved on.”
Christine called upon the council to help her remove the travellers after receiving a letter from them saying that enforcement action would be taken if action was not taken by August 19 (Sunday).
The letter, sent from the town hall's legal services, says: "I am instructed that to date the travellers remain on your land and that you do not appear to have taken any steps to remove them.
"If you fail to take action and the travellers remain on your land for 28 days then this could be construed as a change of use of the land for which planning permission is required."
The devastated woman, who dedicates herself to running the farm for visitors with Alzheimer’s and dementia, said that she could face a Â£20,000 fine if she did not remove them.
Wigan Council has since confirmed that it will not cost the landowners Â£20,000 to have the travellers removed.
Christine and her family will also have to pay for clean up of the land.
“We don’t have that kind of money,” said Christine. “People look at you and think because you have a farm you have money. But we don’t have that kind of cash lying about.
“All of the money we have goes back into the farm to keep it running for the guests.
“We can’t help it if the travellers get on our land. I think the law needs to change.
"I haven't had the bill yet so I don't know how much this will even come to."
Paul Barton, director for environment at Wigan Council, said: “As a local authority we are not responsible for the removal of travellers from private land however we will always support a landowner in their attempts to reclaim their property.
“We have offered support to the farm from when the travellers first moved onto the site including guidance on how to take legal action to have them removed.
“We continue to work with and support the landowners with this difficult situation, including arranging and managing the eviction process for them with further support being offered by local ward councillors to try and help reach a satisfactory conclusion.”