A POPULAR footpath has been closed because of dogs fouling the path and crops on adjacent farmland.

The permissive path runs from the car park at St John’s Church at Toft to Windmill Wood and Toft Wood.

The closure by Toft Estate has angered residents, who said it would hit families wishing to take their children for a walk, dog walkers, joggers and those wishing to visit the churchyard from the woods.

Toft Estate said the path was covered in dog faeces, and crops on adjacent farmland had been fouled by dogs and trampled on by people.

The decision to close the path was backed by the church, which said people using the car park to let their dogs ‘loose down the path’ affected people attending weddings and funerals.

A Toft Estate spokesman said: “The ‘path’ was the original drive to Toft Hall from Chelford Road. It was a driveway later intersected by the A50.

“A number of years ago the estate agreed to allow the public permissive access along this ‘path’ to Windmill Wood. This area of woodland is not owned by the estate.

“There is a public footpath that runs north to south to the far eastern side of the wood.

“There was originally an iron gate at the end of the ‘path’ into the woodland to prevent access. Oak Wood, which is owned by the estate, has no public rights of way.

“Over the years users of the permissive path have trespassed from Windmill Wood on to estate land.

“The tenant farmers of the land surrounding Windmill Wood and Oak Wood have erected numerous fences and signs to confirm the land is private and there is no public access – these have repeatedly been damaged/removed.

“The police and the Cheshire East Rights of Way Officer have been notified.

“There has been a lack of respect for the landowners concerned and farmers, and a disregard by many users for the Countryside Code.

“The ‘path’ is covered in dog faeces, and on numerous occasions users have been seen letting their dogs foul in the crops on the adjacent land.

“All the crops are harvested for animal feed, and the neosporosis parasite found in dog faeces can be harmful to a pregnant cow’s unborn calves.

“Users have walked through Windmill Wood, the surrounding land and Oak Wood, and crops in the adjacent fields have been destroyed by users trampling through them.

“Another major issue is the misuse of the church car park. There are signs clearly stating the area is for church patrons only.

“When there is a funeral/wedding at the church people are forced to park on the side of the A50, which has implications for traffic and is a road safety issue.

“The complete disregard and lack of respect by many users has left the estate with no option but to close the permissive ‘path’.”

The clergy and wardens of St John’s Church said: “We regret the estate has had to take this decision, in consultation with the parish council and the Parochial Church Council; however we believe there are necessary reasons for it.

“It has never been a right of way, but only a permissive path, and the estate has found the path and adjoining agricultural land have become badly fouled by dogs.

“This is because, in recent years, this path has been used by professional dog walkers and minders, as well as by dog owners, and the situation has been getting steadily worse.

“Since the land is used for the production of crops there are obvious dangers for the food chain unless action is taken.

“The path led from our private car park, which we rent from the estate, and maintain at our own expense.

“We need sole use of this car park on Sunday mornings and whenever the hall is being used, which is on most days of the week.

“In addition there are weddings and funerals which clearly need sole use of our car park.

“However we frequently find ourselves competing with cars, and sometimes vans, wanting to park and let their dogs loose down the path.

“For some time now there have been notices in the car park, reminding users it is private; but these have been ignored and defaced.

“The grass area, which the church paid several thousand pounds to improve, has been damaged by careless users.

“We regret the inconvenience to members of our congregation, who used to walk to church from Goughs Lane through the woods, and we realise a local amenity has been curtailed.

“However, sadly, for the above reasons we believe it was a necessary decision by the Toft Estate.”

The decision to close the path has provoked complaints from Guardian readers.

We have received several letters on the issue in recent weeks (see knutsfordguardian.co.uk/yoursay) and this week’s letters’ page on Page 19.