Public Right Of Way Sign

Trespassing and public rights

As the weather improves and the days get longer, public rights of way and trespassing become a key concern for the region’s farmers.   Arthur Denton, Claims Team Leader for South West insurer Cornish Mutual, explores these issues and offers advice to farmers and landowners.

Trespassing and public rights of way continue to be hot topics in the agricultural community. We receive regular queries from our Members about these subjects.

Spring and summer are the most popular times for walkers to venture out into the countryside and when many farmers see large numbers of people walking through their land.

Although they are perennial concerns, some misconceptions remain about trespassing and rights of way among farmers and the wider public.


Trespass is not a criminal offence

Trespassing is not usually seen as criminal offence, but rather a civil one. However, this may change in the future; a Government Briefing Paper, published last year, sets out plans to strengthen police powers to deal with trespassing.

Once a person strays from a public right of way, unless blocked, they usually become a trespasser. Currently, police do not have the jurisdiction to make the trespasser leave.

Initially, the best course of action for landowners is to simply approach the person and politely direct them back to the path. If they refuse to go back to the public right of way, then the farmer may have to obtain a court order, which may turn it into a criminal matter. I would recommend that anyone who has a serious problem with trespassers obtains legal advice.


A farmer cannot block a public right of way

It can be very frustrating for farmers if walkers do not treat the land with respect. However, a public right of way must never be blocked by the landowner. It is a criminal offence to do so and could encourage walkers to stray onto other parts of the farmer’s land.


Landowners have responsibilities for keeping the public safe

Farmers and landowners often ask us what their responsibilities are when it comes to public rights of way. The short answer is that they do have responsibilities and we recommend taking the following steps to meet their obligations:

  • Landowners are responsible for keeping stiles and kissing gates maintained and safe to use.
  • A path should be clear and accessible. Farmers should keep side growth tidy and cut back.
  • Landowners should keep the area, where possible, a metre either side of the footpath safe and free from hazards. If there is something obstructing the public footpath then walkers are within their rights to deviate from the path. If someone is then injured, the landowner could be held liable.
  • Livestock worrying by dogs remains an issue. If the public right of way is near livestock, then signage can go a long way. The wording, however, should not be seen as preventing people from accessing a public right of way. Please get in touch if you would like to receive our free signs, which include wording that complies with the law.
  • Landowners often decide to install barbed wire or an electric fence to contain their livestock. The majority of local authorities favour electric fences, but check their guidelines on usage. Landowners could also use way markers to guide people along the footpath and keep them away from any livestock in the fields.

Farmers and landowners are not required to have public liability insurance for a public right of way. However, this is something that Cornish Mutual would strongly recommend. Public liability insurance can provide some cover for potential accidents and offer access to advice from claims handlers and other sources.


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