One of the many effects of the coronavirus pandemic has been the increasing use of public footpaths by those wishing to enjoy some outside walking or leisure activities. Tragically, when public footpaths cross fields with grazing animals the risk of death and injury is raised. Most recently, a Deputy Headmaster was killed by a cow, a farmer by a bull and an elderly walker trampled by a herd of cows.

The NFU, CLA, Tenants Farmers Association and the Countryside Alliance are all pressing the government to introduce changes to the current rules governing public footpaths. Speaking at a recent Health and Safety Partnership Meeting the deputy NFU President confirmed that three deaths in a fortnight were the consequence of walkers on public rights of way. This contrasts starkly to 2019 when there were none. This year the number of deaths on farms already stands at 30, against an average of 30 per annum over the last 5 years.

No one wants to prevent the public from enjoying the use of public footpaths but the current mechanism for getting footpaths diverted is very long winded and slow. The proposals being put forward are aimed at making it easier for the farmer or landowner to divert a footpath away from grazing cows with, for example, newly born claves, which present the greatest risk, on a temporary basis. The idea is that the farmer or landowner will be able to divert a public footpath for up to 40 days in any 90 day period and avoid the obligation to have to post notices in the local press, although the obligation will remain on the farmer or landowner to ensure the diversion is clearly marked.

The Agriculture team at Butcher & Barlow are able to assist farmers and landowners who have concerns regarding public footpaths crossing their property. We are able to carry out definitive public footpath searches and advise on, prepare and submit applications for a formal Public Footpath Diversion. We can assist in formalising any new Right of Ways, or permanently closing rights of way.

Mike Bracegirdle's recent article on trespass highlights additional issues farmers and landowners are currently facing as more of the public seek to explore the countryside, and our Property Dispute Resolution team are available to provide input if required in those cases which become contentious.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.