Rights of Way and Covid 19

Farmers and Landowners have, not surprisingly, seen an increase in the use of footpaths and bridleways as part of the publics permitted daily exercise during the Covid-19 lock down. Although a great resource for the public to be able to exercise in the countryside, it comes with additional risks to those who work in it, live in it and also those now exploring it.

Despite the temptation for farmers and landowners to block or obstruct a right of way to try and protect themselves, their families and their livestock, they should remember that they do not actually have the legal right to do so.

Here are a few tips and measures that can be put in place to help keep everyone safe, including farmers, landowners and members of the public:

If possible, offer an alternative route around farmyards, gardens, livestock buildings. You will need to make sure that the original right of way is maintained and not blocked/gates locked etc. It is also necessary to check the insurance position before doing this to ensure that appropriate cover is in place.

Put up polite notices encouraging members of the public to respect the social distancing guidelines and consider using alternative routes that do not pass through farmyards and gardens. You have no right to enforce this and it can only be a temporary notice.

Where possible, tie gates open so that walkers do not need to touch gates. Only do this where it is safe to do so.

It is worth considering your options of where livestock can be sensibly grazed particularly as a greater use of paths by the public is likely to mean more dogs off leads. Fields that do not have rights of way crossing them that might be a safer option for your livestock during these lock down weeks.

The CLA have reported that they have been working with DEFRA and Natural England asking for; ‘Agreed wording for farmers or land owners in at-risk groups to put up notices informing members of the public that they are either self-isolating or are in the at-risk group; and, Potential implementation of emergency measures that will allow for those self-isolating or who meet the vulnerable criteria to temporarily divert or close rights of way to protect everyone’.

We will keep you posted as we learn more. In the meantime, carefully consider your options and stay safe.

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