Throughout the year, many of us spend time enjoying the 150,000 miles of footpaths, bridleways and byways open in the UK, but is the reality of the public right of way (PRoW) on your land as idyllic as a countryside walk might be?
The numbers of people accessing the countryside has increased significantly recently causing issues for landowners caused by walkers straying from public footpaths, dogs and failures to comply with the Countryside Code.
What should you do as a landowner?
1. Ensure footpaths are free from obstruction–
Owners of agricultural land with a PRoW are required to ensure that the route is kept free from obstruction. Intentionally obstructing a PRoW is a criminal offence and the highway authority can demand that you remove any obstructions.
2. Reduce risk around livestock-
Owners of livestock that injure or fatally wound the public now face increased fines and penalties of up to £500,000. Cattle and sheep can be kept in fields with public access (including bulls so long as it is under 10 months old or it does not belong to a recognised dairy breed, and is with cows or heifers). It is good practice to display signs informing the public that there is a bull in the field (See HSE Sheet 17) to warn users.
3. Apply for a Footpath Diversion -
Section 119 of the Highways Act 1980 gives District and Borough councils the discretionary power to make a ‘public path diversion order’ once an applicant has applied. Once made, the order is confirmed by the authority or Secretary of State and the definitive map is modified.
The process is protracted and expensive, involves a long list of consultees, can take over a year and the fee payable to the local authority likely to be circa £3,000. When weighed up against the potential for a public liability claim against the landowner however, it could be deemed a price worth paying.