Increasingly there is going to be more access made available to the general public, and it is the landowner’s responsibility to ensure that public rights of way are accessible and safe.
Here are a few ‘do’s and don’ts’ which might be useful in this regard, but for further information please visit www.gov.uk or contact your insurance broker.
- If you are a landowner, a primary responsibility should be to ascertain whether there are any public rights of way across your land. This should be easy enough as your local authority will have definitive, up-to-date maps of all public routes;
- All public rights of way must be clear of obstructions, as to actually cause an obstruction is a criminal offence. You must therefore avoid ploughing footpaths and bridleways that follow a field’s edge, always leaving a gap of a minimum of three metres which must remain undisturbed;
- Ensure that trees are checked at least annually by a competent person and a record kept. Bridges, gates and fences must be maintained to ensure that people using the footpaths are not harmed. You can claim 25% (or sometimes more) of the cost of any replacement work from the highway authority. A number of authorities provide materials and some may even carry out the work themselves;
- Although it might be a temptation, landowners must avoid putting up misleading signs as a deterrent to the general public using the footpaths. Warning signs should be in place for the public’s safety and this might include cattle, slurry lagoons etc; and
- Make insurers aware of any public rights of way on your land. Should a member of the public pursue a claim against the landowner and they were found to be negligent, the landowner should have a minimum limit of indemnity of £5 million to cover them (assuming all material facts had been declared from the outset).
The best advice for landowners who have public paths on their land is to embrace their responsibilities rather than ignore or fight them.
It might be something of a bitter pill to swallow, but it is a great deal sweeter than a crippling lawsuit.
In Scotland the Land Reform Act (Scotland) 2003 governs public access to private land. This is currently under review in the Holyrood Parliament. Please contact your local authority should you require further information.