21st April 2017
EU Plants Ltd is one of the largest producers of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry plants in the UK. In 2011, the company purchased a farm in Berkshire.
Following the purchase, neighbours sought to prevent the farm’s growth by arguing that the wording of an easement restricted the farm’s right of way for agricultural traffic.
The wording permitted a right of way ‘for the purposes presently enjoyed’. The Claimants argued the right of way had been extinguished, and the ‘purposes presently enjoyed’ related to the easement’s creation in 1991 when, they claimed, the track was used mainly for moving sheep and cutting grass. Our client argued that the wording extended to present agricultural purposes.
EU Plants’ turnover is multi-million and the future existence of this farm depended on us winning this case.
The Claimants issued court proceedings for an injunction, which we defended vigorously. We investigated the matter thoroughly, studied the existing deeds and interviewed those involved with the farm when the deed was created in 1991. We obtained detailed witness statements from the former farm manager and land agent, as well as the farm’s former owners, employees and neighbours at that time.
As Russell (Agriculture Partner and litigation specialist) is one of a handful of agricultural solicitors with membership of the British Institute of Agricultural Consultants (BIAC), we were able to draw on this connection to benefit our client. Russell sourced a BIAC member with road traffic expertise to comment on the historic usage of right of way by different farming and agricultural vehicles.
Through thorough research, expertise and a skilled team of solicitors and barristers, we were able to demonstrate the proper interpretation of the deed.
The case lasted three years, involved eight witnesses and concluded in a four-day trial. A positive judgment was handed down in 2015, concluding our client could use the right of way for his current purpose. The Claimants appealed to the Court of Appeal, but their appeal was dismissed in 2016.
The case has been widely reported in leading agricultural publications, including Farmers Weekly.
For further commentary on this case, or to discuss any Agriculture-related issue, please contact a member of Thrings' Agriculture team.