The majority of farms have some form of public right of way across them, whether it is a footpath, bridleway or byway. Landowners and regulatory bodies have raised concerns about the number of people taking to the countryside amidst the COVID-19 outbreak. The main issue that has been raised is the increased risk brought to rural workers, livestock, and newborn lambs.
As the right of way network remains open, DEFRA is providing the option to farmers to offer alternative routes. Standard notices are available for farmers to erect to alert the public and to ensure the safety of pedestrians, riders, farm works, and all livestock. Equally, as polite notices are encouraged, it is also an opportunity for farmers and landowners to educate the public; help their understanding of how food is produced and encourage them to shop local and shop British.
On the other hand, many landowners are aware not all members of the public adhere to the designated path; and if repeated over a number of years, landowners are vulnerable to members of the public claiming new rights over their land.
It is imperative landowners take active steps to prevent members of the public accessing private land, to help prevent new rights of way being imposed.
A new right of way can be claimed if a route has been used for at least 20 years without interruption, as long as it was used without secrecy, force, or the landowner’s permission.
From past experience, we have seen this become a common problem for landowners who own a large acreage and cannot regularly monitor all their land. However, it can occur anywhere and in recent years, it tends to be more apparent around built-up areas, particularly where members of the public have been walking their dogs.
A simple process of submitting a statement under Section 31 (6) of the Highways Act 1980 to the Local Authority avoids new rights of way being inflicted and provides 20 year’s security for the landowner that the land is protected.
Part of this submission will be a map of the land with the existing rights of way suitably marked, and the landowner should state that they do not wish any more footpaths to be designated over it. The Local Authority will then present this publicly for any objections. If there are no objections, the landowner can submit a document requesting that the land be protected from new rights of way for 20 years.
If you would like to understand in more detail how best to protect your land against new public rights of way, then contact our Rural Professional Team within your regional office:
Northumberland, Borders & Cumbria – 01665 603231
County Durham – 01388 527966
Yorkshire – 01677 425301