In her latest blog on rural issues, associate Hannah Taylor covers the options open to farmers and landowners to protect their crops from walkers veering off public footpaths – and why it’s important for everyone to work together.
Last year I blogged about public rights of way. I covered how vital it was that public rights of way were kept open during the Covid-19 lockdowns, not only to comply with the law, but as they are a godsend for so many rural families who use them for daily exercise.
Lockdowns across the UK have resulted in a far higher number of people than usual making use of the country’s 150,000 miles of public footpaths. But for farmers, that accelerated usage has created an issue with many walkers damaging crops and wildlife habitats. There has even been a marked increase in dogs, roaming off the lead, attacking farm animals.
It is also a problem Mark Bridgeman, president of the CLA, has covered in recent weeks where he has talked about walkers disobeying the Countryside Code.
The vast majority of that damage isn’t malicious, but is causing a headache for farmers and landowners who are trying to stay one step ahead during the most difficult year for generations.
So, given public footpaths cannot be closed, what options do farmers have available to them?
First and foremost, many farmers and landowners have not yet fully considered the opportunity to offer an optional diversion.
This is when an additional route across their land is made available - which may help in taking some footfall away from the original route to alleviate some of the difficulties currently being encountered.
However, it must be remembered that the original route must also be left available for use and cannot be closed.
Whilst there are benefits and downsides to this option, some landowners may feel it helps to address any problems with the current climate and increased numbers of walkers in mind. Some have already found it useful.
The optional diversion route is something that works for some, but not all. That is why it is important to keep paths clear and ensure signage is displayed clearly. Given that 24-hour surveillance is near impossible, these are just some of the tactics farmers and landowners are using successfully to protect their land, their animals and ultimately, their livelihoods.
Hannah Taylor is an Associate within the Agriculture and Rural Affairs department at mfg Solicitors. Readers can contact Hannah, who specialises in a variety of highway-related matters, through email@example.com.