Public rights of way (PROW) across farmland can sometimes be a headache, especially when new claims are submitted. So how can you protect your land? Mollie leach explores what farmers need to know.
With farmers and landowners often left frustrated by new claims to public rights of way, further guidance has been issued by industry experts to provide farmers with advice on protecting their land.
Calls across the board have therefore focused on making the ability to record, create, divert or close a public right of way ‘easier’ and ‘less expensive’ for farmers.
Philip Meade, director at Davis Meade Property Consultants, said: “If members of the public have been using a specific route for either walking the dog, a shortcut to the shops or just for general enjoyment and they have used it for a long enough period, usually 20 years and more, they can apply to have the route designated as a public right of way.
“The use must be uninterrupted and no permission must have been granted for this to happen, which, of course, can create problems for farmers and landowners.”
Mr Meade added however that the creation of new rights of way can be stopped by depositing a Statutory Declaration with the local council, which can be done by completing an application form under section 31 (6) of the Highways Act 1980.
“If the users of the route then apply to the local council to have it declared as a right of way, the council will then notify them that a Statutory Declaration has been deposited and that their application cannot proceed,” he highlighted.
Once the Declaration has been deposited, the declaration should be renewed every 20 years to maintain the protection of the land.
Can a PROW be claimed?
Impact on the landowner
Mr Rees said: “This process can leave landowners perplexed and frustrated. How can a member of the public claim that a footpath runs through your land when the alleged access point is an overgrown hedge, there is no visible path on the ground, and no one has ever knocked on your door asking to pass through your garden?
“Alternatively, the applicant may claim to have passed through a distant field on your farm for their entire lifetime without permission and so now wants it confirmed as a bridleway. You may not have been aware of this use, but surely you can object to it now?
"These feelings are often amplified where reinstatement of the PROW would have a dramatic impact on the land. Why should you suddenly have to give up the privacy of your garden, open an entire field to horse riders, or even knock down a garage that was built on an alleged footpath by your predecessor?”
1. Focus on the question at hand when faced with an application, does the PROW exist in law? Keep the underlying principle in mind: ’once a highway, always a highway’.
2. Start with the Definitive Map and Statement. A PROW that is recorded will have to be reinstated even if it cannot be seen on the ground today. Inconvenience and cost to you is largely irrelevant.
3. If the PROW is not yet recorded, assess the applicant’s evidence. Does it show continued use of the alleged route for more than 20 years? Is there anything you can say or show that contradicts this claim?
4. Consider the risks of objecting without strong evidence. A contested application can progress through several stages of consideration and may require a public inquiry. It can be an expensive process that still results in the PROW being confirmed.
5. Act in your best interests and compromise where necessary. If an application has merit, considering acknowledging this and asking the local authority whether you can explore diverting the route. A diverted route must satisfy different legal requirements but could leave you with a far less intrusive and expensive PROW through your land.
Mr Rees added: “Applications claiming PROW can shock and anger landowners. This is entirely understandable given the potential impact on their property and lives.
“It is imperative, however, that the application is assessed from the proper legal standpoint so that the landowner’s best interests are protected.
"If a PROW has to be reinstated, early recognition may enable the landowner to negotiate a far more palatable, diverted route at a relatively low cost and long-term impact.”