The sun has got his hat on…
But it won’t be “hip hip hip hooray” for many farmers and landowners dealing with walkers on their land. The continued good weather this spring means that thousands of people across the UK are still “coming out today” and visiting a farm near you.
Up and down the country we are hearing reports of increasing numbers of people taking to the countryside to get some fresh air and exercise, as an antidote to the harsh realities of lockdown. From my parents, who had two full cars arrive on their drive, the occupants ready to go for a walk through our private farm yard; to the unfortunate farmer from Derbyshire who was assaulted by a rambler while he disinfected a gate post. Whilst the restrictions on daily exercise have been lifted, steps are still in place to prevent overcrowding in beauty spots. Walkers will need to take heed of the fact that the use of public access land and the “right to roam” may be temporarily restricted.
There are some practical steps that landowners can take to try and minimise risks to themselves as they continue to farm at this crucial time of year. Those of us with footpaths on our land will know that we have a duty to keep the route of the path passable and clear, to assist users in keeping to the correct path. You may also consider:
- Putting up additional signage to make the route of a designated public right of way clear. At the moment, people keen to maintain social distancing are deviating from marked paths, potentially damaging crops or disturbing livestock (which is very concerning during lambing season). You should, however, check the position with the local highways officer, as consent may be needed to place a sign or notice on the public right of way itself.2. If you have livestock close to a public path, reminding walkers that dogs should be kept on leads, and that animals worrying livestock may legally be shot if necessary.
- Blocking field entrances and other tempting routes which are not designated rights of way. Keep your farm gates locked and marked as private property where applicable.
- Be alive to potential hazards and dangers to life on your land, even if this is away from a designated path or route. You may still owe a duty of care to parties who trespass or get lost, so think about minimising risks. Speak to your insurer for guidance.
- Trespass is a civil, rather than a criminal matter, but do contact the police if you have concerns about criminal activity on your land, or if you suffer threatening behaviour or abuse.
- If you need to disinfect stiles or gates for your own safety, try and do this at a time where you can better avoid contact with people.
The entire country is going through a very stressful and pressured time, but I hope that with some guidance and patience, the community will be able to work together to share our rural spaces in a more positive way.
If you have any concerns about the impact of Coronavirus on your family or business, please contact our agriculture team. We have specialists across all our legal teams who have practical experience of farming and rural life.
Our Agricultural and Rural Business have considerable industry specific experience in advising you on any issues arising from this article. Our Head of Agriculture and Rural Business, Emily Pumfrey, has a farming background which enables her to deal with issues in the sector in a practical and informative manner. Clients describe our agriculture team as “friendly and dynamic…striking the perfect balance between being approachable and giving first-class advice.”Back to Legal Updates →