Editors Note:  the following is a slightly edited version of an article John wrote for the June 2007 edition of O-Know.  In the interest of full disclosure the editor was the course setter for the Bothwell event discussed and I can certainly testify to being very conscious of fences ever since.

The event last month at Bothwell included a number of fence crossings. Several of the fences were certainly difficult to cross, especially by those of us who are becoming rather less agile as a by-product of age impairment, but there are other (related) factors to consider as well.

Fairness: Difficult fences (whether they are just tight, or sheep mesh, or well decorated with barbed wire) will slow the progress of competitors to a greater or lesser extent, and younger and older orienteers will tend be the more disadvantaged. This threatens the fairness of a course where some competitors have more difficulty negotiating fences than others.

Duty of care: We have a duty of care to all competitors. Sure, we all acknowledge that we compete at our own risk – but only up to a point. If a course planner knowingly sets a course where there is no option but to cross a difficult fence, then maybe that could be regarded as failing in duty of care should a competitor be injured in attempting to cross it.

Care of property: We also have to exercise duty of care over property (available free of charge to us by obliging land owners / manager), and climbing through or over fences can damage them. How often have we read on the notice that we should take care when crossing fences and to report any damage to the organisers? I have never heard of a single person reporting damage – but I am quite sure that some fences have suffered considerably during an event, and we are liable for that damage.

So on the grounds of fairness, possible risk to competitors, and possible damage to property, the onus is on course planners and controllers to exercise their judgement when planning and checking courses.

So what do we do about problem fences? I suggest the following:

  • Where possible, we should avoid setting legs that cross difficult fences.
  • If such fence crossings cannot be avoided, then we need to make sure the map shows where there are easier crossing points (e.g. gates) – and if these are not clear on the map, then show them as crossing points. Course legs should be set so that competitors do not have to go too far off line (on a reasonable route choice) to make use of identified crossings.
  • If the fence cannot be avoided and there is no obvious easy crossing point, then we need to provide a safe and easy crossing (eg. a stile, hay bales, boxes), indicate its position on the map, and to consider making it a compulsory crossing point. Our sport should be fun and fair, that we can all participate in within our comfort zone and in safety.