Rural organisations join forces in proposal for amendment to Highways Act 1980

13 October 2020

Rural groups have joined forces to call for an amendment to the Highways Act 1980 which would improve safety on the public rights of way network following a spike in livestock-related deaths.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), National Farmers Union (NFU),  Countryside Alliance (CA) and Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) have written to Rural Affairs Minister, Lord Gardiner, outlining how the amendment would enable farmers to temporarily divert public rights of way where livestock are present.

This diversion would help reduce the risk of further serious incidents happening to visitors in the countryside and allow farmers to operate their businesses safely and effectively.

The proposal provides a temporary diversion for a limited period of time, following a short notice period with clear notices placed at either end of the route.

Deputy President of the CLA Mark Tufnell said:

“We believe that our proposal will help save lives. There have been a number of tragic incidents recently of walkers being killed by livestock while visiting the countryside. Our priority is people’s safety, and by amending the Highways Act landowners will be empowered to take the necessary steps to protect the public.”

NFU Deputy President Stuart Roberts said:

“Sadly, we have learnt of several incidents recently in which members of the public have lost their lives. The countryside is a busy working environment, so we need to ensure that the millions of people who visit every year can continue to do so safely and responsibly. This proposed change in the law would allow farmers to quickly, easily and temporarily divert public rights of way where livestock are present to further reduce the risks.”

Head of Politics at Countryside Alliance James Legge said:

“The law must recognise that the countryside is a place of work as well as recreation. The current Highways Act fails to balance the needs of farmers and land managers to raise livestock while also being able to take necessary steps to protect public safety. The proposed change in the law would enable farmers and land managers to raise livestock and protect public safety, without reducing the ability of the public to enjoy the countryside. The Government needs to recognise the problem and act to ensure the law is fair and workable, and most importantly helps prevent any further tragic loss of life.”

TFA National Vice-Chairman Robert Martin said:

“The devastating loss of life that we have experienced recently in the countryside could be prevented easily by taking the simple and reasonable approach we have outlined.  We want walkers to be able to enjoy the countryside safely alongside farmers going about their day-to-day business.”

This idea was sparked by a pilot scheme in Cornwall, which used permissive paths (a route landowners allow the public to use) to offer an alternative route when livestock are being grazed on the land. The  temporary diversion would solve the current problems without these drawbacks, which includes existing rights of way remaining permanently open.

Although it’s an option that remains a useful tool for landowners, permissive paths are not suitable in all instances as the original route must remain open, leaving walkers exposed to potential risk.

The current process for permanently diverting public rights is complex and inflexible.

Read the proposals in the letter to Lord Gardiner here