Walkers and ramblers are being warned they have no automatic right of access to cross farm and private land as the coronavirus crisis sees an increase in the number of people choosing days out in the UK countryside.
With many abroad holiday plans being cancelled, the staycation trend has seen people flocking to enjoy the outdoors. And the NFU has reported farmers are seeing an increase in members of the public walking on private land.
Tom Devey, FBC Manby Bowdler Partner in the Agricultural team, warned that whilst public footpaths are open to all, wandering across private land could land walkers in hot water for trespass.
“The legal position is that you don’t have automatic access to walk across agricultural or other private land, even if you think doing so wouldn’t cause any damage,” he said.
However, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, there is a ‘right to roam’ over certain areas of land. These include land shown on a map as ‘open country’, registered common land or, land that’s higher than 600m above sea level.
Tom said: “During lockdown and now as rules are being relaxed, farmers are also concerned about the potential infection risks from people taking to the countryside.
“The NFU has said issues raised by their members included an increased use of footpaths that run through, or close to, farmyards and gardens which could put people who live and work in rural areas at risk, as well as an increased risk to livestock due to more people walking dogs in the countryside.”
“There are many areas of land that you cannot simply wander across, including some land that may be shown as open access land on a map, but remains private.
“In England & Wales it also does not give you the right to ‘wild camp’ and if you breach any conditions (including allowing your dog to run free around livestock), then you can be treated as a trespasser.
“This will mean the landowner has the right to stop you from going onto their land (even if it’s elsewhere) for 72 hours after you’ve been asked to leave.”
Landowners also have the right to restrict access to their land for up to 28 days a year - often during lambing season or at critical times during the year so that livestock are not at risk of being disturbed.
If you have any questions about your right to access a particular location or if you’re the landowner and want to know what you can do to protect your property while remaining within the boundaries of the law, please contact Tom Devey.