As we find ourselves in a third lockdown, it is good to see more people wanting to get outside and enjoy the countryside, particularly with most other activities curtailed. But in this wet winter, with increased use, some of our public footpaths and bridleways are coming under great strain.
We are seeing the walked route, very quickly, becoming far wider than the legal line of the route, muddy expanses across farmland resulting in many metres of productive land being lost. The concern is obvious, as grazing land is being lost and crops, vital for food production, are being trampled on and ruined - and we are only at the start of this lockdown.
As a result, it is more important than ever that people understand the Countryside Code and that they enjoy the countryside responsibly, and the CLA will continue its work in this area.
What landowners can do
It is essential landowners know their responsibilities when it comes to public rights of way; good management should assist with some of the issues we are currently witnessing. These include:
- Keeping public rights of way clear of overhanging vegetation and obstructions
- Maintaining stiles and gates in good condition
- After ploughing, the surface must be reinstated within 14 days (or 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance such as drilling) to the statutory minimum width. This may be defined in the Definitive Statement that accompanies the Definitive Map or in the absence of a Definitive Statement, the following statutory minimum widths apply in metres:
Informative signs can help, as can erecting fencing to keep users to the public right of way in some circumstances. Whether temporary or permanent, any fencing needs careful consideration, especially if it’s a cross-field path given how this could impact your farming practices.
If it’s possible to provide an alternative route around the field edge, it may be an option for farmers to consider offering a permissive path. As the existing route must also remain open, there is no guarantee that people would use this permissive path however, if it is less muddy and clearly signed, then it may prove a popular choice. If you choose to do this, you should notify your insurer and clearly sign the route as a permissive path. In the long term, you can also consider applying to permanently divert public rights of way, for instance from cross field to field edge.
Please feel free to contact your regional office or the national team directly for further assistance or specific queries.