Ploughing and cropping issues take up a major part of my day to day work, the public report routes to the council that are either overgrown with crops or have had their surface disturbed, I then go out to inspect them. Once they have been inspected I then contact the landowner to get the issue resolved, this is usually by phone or email in the first instance and then if a legal notice is required this is sent in the post.
Landowners may disturb the surface of cross field routes if it cannot be reasonably avoided for agricultural purposes. Once the surface has been disturbed the landowner has 14 days to reinstate a route, after a subsequent disturbance the route must be restored within 24 hours.
For a route to be sufficiently reinstated I would expect it to be:
– A reasonably convenient surface
– Apparent on the ground
– Not obstructed by crop
This gives quite a wide scope for reinstatement, many members of the public have a different opinion as to whether routes are reasonably reinstated. For a rough ploughed field I would request the route is rolled to provide a reasonably convenient surface whereas if it has been drilled wheel marking would be sufficient. I encourage landowners to spray crops off before they reach knee height although they should be sprayed earlier if causing obstruction such as sugar beet. If I inspect a route as the crop is above knee height the landowner is expected to cut the crop out to make the public right of way available.
Ploughing and cropping on public rights of way can be enforced under the Rights of Way Act 1990 under several sections depending upon the offence including s131A, s134(3), s137A(a) and s137A(b).
If landowners do not reinstate routes following the 14 day period given to reinstate then a legal notice is served, this involves giving them a stated time period to complete the reinstatement and if it is not completed then my contractors or myself go in to reinstate the route ourselves and the time and works are recharged to the landowner. When a legal notice is served we have to inform the Rural Payments Agency this means that landowners subsidies can be revoked if they are a persistent offender, due to this process landowners are generally very good at keeping routes reinstated and are aware of the laws surrounding ploughing and cropping.
Required widths Each public right of way should have a recorded width included in its’ definitive statement, this is the legal width of the route that can be enforced, although some routes do not have a stated definitive width so see below the widths expected if no definitive width:
Crossfield routes – FP 1m-1.8m, BR 2m-3m, BY/RB 3m-5m
Field edge/headland routes – FP 1.5m-1.8m, BR 3m, BY/RB 3m-5m