Wisbech Rugby Club cries foul over public behaviour at Harecroft Road playing fields while Wisbech Acorns move away
Dog mess, used needles, broken glass and bottle tops embedded into the soil, on top of other littering issues, have led local sports clubs to take action to stop public access to their pitches.
Problems have also forced one club to stop using the facilities altogether.
The current situation with the Harecroft Playing Fields at Wisbech, owned by the National Trust (NT) and leased to sporting groups including Wisbech Rugby Club, was raised by Coun Virginia Bucknor at a Fenland Council meeting.
She was concerned public open space was being lost as a result of new fencing around some of the pitches, including two rugby pitches.
But Mark Brighty, secretary of Acorns Football Club, said the problems have been so bad in recent times they handed in their notice and stopped using the playing fields in January.
“The litter on the football pitches included dog mess, needles, used condoms and broken glass – there was so much we used a wheelbarrow to clear the pitch before every match. It was just not safe for our players. We are a grassroots club so we have children as young as six playing and we had to put their safety first, which is why we gave up the Harecroft pitches.”
He said vandalism and break-ins at the club’s pavilion were also an issue. “We were shelling out more on repairs than we were getting in and you can’t carry on like that,” he said.
Leonard Veenendaal, chairman of the rugby club, agreed the problems have become intolerable and said the move to stop access over the club’s land comes after years of abuse by the public. It follows problems last summer when rough sleepers were using the area and members of a Wisbech Facebook page were complaining about rubbish on the site.
He said the club has been happy to allow the public access to the playing fields for the last 60 years, since they leased the land from the NT – but in recent times people have increasingly abused the privilege by failing to clean-up after their dogs, leaving glass bottles broken on the pitch, along with used needles, which have caused health and safety issues for the players, many of whom are children.
Mr Veenendaal said: “About three weeks ago we had a young player whose whole face was swollen because of an infection caused by dog mess – the second time that has happened.
“A few seasons ago we had a player who had such a severe skin infection caused by dog faeces he was hospitalised in Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge.
“Before every match we have to check the pitches for dog faeces, needles and other rubbish. Last week we cleared 12 bags of dog mess off one pitch.”
He continued: “The public seem to think they have the right to do whatever they like. We have even had people metal detecting on the pitches and digging holes. We can’t afford to keep repairing damage and clearing up.
“In March 2017 the clubs met with the NT to discuss how these issues might be addressed. One of the measures suggested was to ensure the perimeter fence running along the Chapel Road car park and then on Chapel Road and Harecroft Road was in good repair.
“Club volunteers undertook that work during last summer and installed gates.”
Notices were put up next to the rugby clubhouse explaining the status of the land and prohibiting dog walking on the closest two pitches.
Mr Veenendaal added: “We also rent a third pitch between Harecroft Road and the footpath that leads from the Chapel Road car park to Leverington Road. This land has public rights of way.
“Now the NT are actively exploring the possibility of fencing for this land and notices to emphasise the status of the land as private tenanted land. A further meeting of the stakeholders is planned for March.”