Public Rights of Way on Farms
Many farmers have Public Rights of Way (PROW) across their land and while it can be inconvenient to manage public paths, it is a legal requirement for them to be usable. It can also protect the land and increase the safety of livestock.
Jonathan Cheal, Agriculture Solicitor at Mogers Drewett, explains the legal issues surrounding PROWs and what is expected of farmers and landowners:
- It is a criminal offence for a landowner to block a public right of way. The penalty for doing so has been increased through a new enforcement provision in the Highways Act 1980 (s137), potentially resulting in imprisonment, a fine or both.
- Paths should be clear, accessible and free from plant growth and obstructions, with stiles and kissing gates well maintained and safe to use.
- If a public path is not apparent, for example because it has been ploughed/planted over, the public tend to walk elsewhere. It is therefore better to always make public paths as obvious as possible to reduce the likelihood of users leaving the path.
- It is lawful to make use of the right to plough a field with a footpath on it provided it is done in accordance with the Highways Act (s134). This section contains the 14-day rule, the period in which the farmer must reinstate the path to sufficient width. Failure to do this is an offence punishable by a fine.
- Keeping the area either side of the footpath (ideally 1m) safe and free from hazards reduces the likelihood of walkers deviating from it, which they are entitled to do if a path is obstructed. If an injury occurs from not being able to use the designated path or from a damaged stile/kissing gate, the landowner could be held liable.
- If possible, avoid keeping livestock in a field with a public right of way across it, especially cattle with calves at foot. If this is unavoidable, the HSE provides the following guidance, Cattle and public access in England and Wales.
- It is not easy for livestock farmers to deal with public access and there are many public paths which go diagonally across a field. One possible solution to this inconvenience is to divert the path officially, so it runs around the headland of the field. Diversions are far from straightforward though and user groups often object, so it is important not to apply for a diversion until agreement has been reached with all potential objectors. This can take a good deal of time and requires specialist advice.
- Installing signs is a useful way to alert the public to the presence of livestock or other hazards such as deep water or unstable land. These signs should not be seen as preventing people from accessing a public right of way. The HSE advice referenced above includes information on signs. You can also request one of our free 'dogs on lead' signs by emailing Marketing@cornishmutual.co.uk
- Fences and way markers can help guide users along the correct footpath. It is lawful to fence along both sides of a public path, provided the ‘correct width’ has been preserved (see bullet point below). As it is usually easier to fence off footpaths along a field edge, it is again worth considering diverting paths which run across a field. Contact your local authority for information about specific requirements relating to fences in your area.
- Establishing the correct width of a public path is not simple. It may be found on the Definitive Statement/Map in a parish survey or from the boundary features such as hedges and fences on either side of the path providing they were installed by reference to it. If no indication exists, it is generally the width customarily walked by the public. This is obviously not ideal and open to much question so before you fence off a footpath it is essential to be sure of the correct width.
Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000
The CROW Act covers the right of access to the countryside, Public Rights of Way and the protection of nature and wildlife, detailing the responsibilities of anyone using a PROW. These include not damaging hedges, fences and walls, not leaving gates open when they are found shut.
The Countryside Code is the Government’s statutory guide for visitors to the countryside and covers the use of PROW. It is guidance rather than legislation.
Public Liability Insurance
Public liability insurance can provide some cover for potential accidents and give access to advice from claims handlers and other specialist sources. Farmers and landowners are not required to have public liability insurance for Public Rights of Way, but it is something Cornish Mutual strongly recommends, and comes as standard in every Cornish Mutual farm insurance policy.
Further sources of information:
Cornwall Countryside Access Team: 0300 1234 202
Devon Public Rights of Way: 0345 155 1004
Somerset Rights of Way team: 0300 123 2224
Dorset Customer Services: 01305 221000
Crimestoppers: 0800 555 111