With the current restrictions in place I’m certainly starting to feel the cabin fever setting in. I’ve been making the most of my local rights of way from the front door along with what feels the entire nation, routes that are usually deserted and I never meet a soul are now rammed with walkers from other villages.
Rights of way are divisive at the best of times and they’re certainly the heart of controversial conversations at the moment. The British public are hoarding to the countryside for their once daily prescribed exercise to stay in line with the governments guidelines for keeping us safe and reducing the stress on the NHS. This means that routes that may not have been walked in years are being trodden regularly once again, with the influx of walkers, biker riders and equestrians many landowners are taking the law into their own hands to try and prevent the public accessing their land.
Whilst we can all sympathise with those trying to protect their families from the virus this does not give any landowner the authority to close public rights of way in England, Wales have taken a different view with their government issuing emergency legislation to allow legal closures.
For rights of way to be closed they must have a legal closure in place. This means any obstructions you come across, without a legal closure notice on site from your local Highway Authority, must be reported to the Council or Unitary Authority.
Defra have published guidance on Public Rights of Way during the coronavirus outbreak and have developed 2 signs for routes, one for those with an alternative route available and one for all other rights of way.
Routes with a suitable alternative route may have signs as follows:
This path passes through a private garde/working farmyard/working stables. An alternative and safe permitted path is available to maintain social distancing and protect residents and local communities. If you with to use the alternative route please follow the way markers along this temporary route. In line with Defra and Public Health England advice: Maintain social distancing requirements – Ensure you keep at least 2 metres away from other people, Hand wash/sanitise after touching any shared surfaces, e.g. stiles/gates, Keep dogs on a lead around livestock and away from other people/dogs, Leave gates as you find them.
Any public right of way without a suitable alternative route may not be obstructed for the purpose of COVID-19 restrictions but may have the following signage:
This path crosses through farmland & close to local people’s homes and their families. In line with Defra and Public Health England advice: Maintain social distancing requirements – Ensure you keep at least 2 metres away from other people, Hand wash/sanitise after touching any shared surfaces, e.g. stiles/gates, Keep dogs on a lead around livestock and away from other people/dogs, Leave gates as you find them.
These are the only signs you should be seeing on public rights of way whether you’re on footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways or byways open to all traffic. If you see any signs that look official but state things such as “stay at home protect your NHS, no access” or “footpath closed to stop spread of coronavirus” then make sure to report these to your local authority, do respect the landowners but you may still use the right of way as long as you are on the definitive alignment and not straying onto private land.
Use the countryside as a sanctuary to keep our sanity during these strange times of being confined to our homes and make the most of exploring your local routes.
Check out the Ordnance Survey COVID-19 updates and stay up to date with the current guidelines on how to stay safe but still enjoy the outdoors on our doorsteps.