Wheelchair user calls for disabled access adjustments at fishing spot

Victor Fields
Victor Fields

A DISABLED angler believes the owner of an Eastbourne farm could be acting illegally by denying him access to a fishing lake on the grounds of health and safety.

Earlier this year wheelchair-user Victor Fields tried to buy a ticket to fish in the lake at Sharnfold Farm in Stone Cross on the Hailsham Road and asked the owner of the farm, Dennis Hilsdon, for permission to drive to the edge of the lake approximately 250 metres from the car park.

But Mr Fields said Mr Hilsdon explained he did not allow cars to drive to the lake citing health and safety reasons and said that there were pedestrians en route.

A path runs half the distance from the car park to the edge of the lake but Mr Fields says that he would find it extremely difficult to wheel the rest of the way and he is unable to walk more than 15 yards without experiencing pain and discomfort.

Now legal experts and campaigners say reasonable adjustments should be made to the hard stone path because it benefits disabled and non-disabled visitors.

Mr Fields says he has tried to contact Mr Hilsdon on several occasions subsequently to seek a solution but has heard nothing.

He also says that reasonable adjustments are made at other venues which enable him to fish and that he is annoyed that Mr Hilsdon has not offered to make alternative arrangements.

He said, “It would be extremely difficult for me to get down there on my own. It would mean putting my tackle box on the back of my chair and holding my rods, sandwiches and other equipment while trying to push myself for more than 100 yards along the stone path. Once you get onto grass it becomes doubly difficult to push the chair.

“The attitude at Sharnfold is pretty bad. Mr Hilsdon doesn’t seem to care. The majority of other fishing lakes I visit allow me to drive to the edge or if not are very helpful in getting me there.”

The Herald was unable to speak to Mr Hilsdon but in an interview with Disability Now, the national awareness newspaper, he said allowing Mr Fields to drive to the lake did not constitute a reasonable adjustment because the presence of pedestrians on the farm trail made it too dangerous.

He said, “The approaches to the lake are flat and level. Half of the distance between the car park and the lake is a hard stone surface. We designed it so that we have wide and fairly levels slopes on the outside of the lake. It’s designed so that if anyone falls in it’s approximately knee-deep at the edge.”

Mr Hilsdon also told Disability Now he did not know what the solution might be. But Douglas Johnson, a disability rights worker at Sheffield Law Centre, who has previously championed legal cases on disability rights and equality, said that although a hard stone path is a good example of a reasonable adjustment because it benefits disabled and non-disabled visitors, the path does not meet Mr Fields’s access needs.

He said, “I would suggest it is a reasonable step to complete the path. As this will take some time, further reasonable adjustments are required in the meantime and the farm owner would benefit from asking Mr Fields for his ideas. Doing nothing is unlikely to be a lawful option.”