Are you a landowner wanting to protect your land? Are you a rambler wanting to protect your rambling routes? Either way you should be aware of Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.
The coronavirus saw the public flood into the countryside and not everyone was aware of the countryside code or how to access the countryside responsibly. Many straying from paths and destroying farmers livelihoods by walking through crops and wandering where they wished.
Before the coronavirus hit the Defra permissive path schemes came to an end due to subsidies being revoked, this saw many people’s regular walks being restricted and disappearing after years. Signs appeared all over the countryside stating ‘PRIVATE’ and ‘no public right of way’ surprising many as they had become accustomed to using these routes.
For many reasons the public have become much more aware of their local areas and wanted to explore more and landowners have become more aware of the legislation that can be used to protect their land.
Landowners can protect their land from any future claims for public rights of way by making a deposit under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.
Under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980, landowners can deposit statements and declarations with the county council acknowledging public rights of way across their land and stating that, at that time, they have no intention to dedicate any further public rights of way. Landowners can do this at any time.
The requirements for establishing that a claimed route should be added to the Definitive Map and Statement are that it has been used freely by the public without the need for permission for an uninterrupted period of at least 20 years. A valid deposit under section 31(6) stops time running forward for the acquisition of public rights by usage, and constitutes an effective challenge for any future claims, unless it can be shown that the public had already been using the route for at least 20 years before the date of the statement or declaration, or the claim is based on documentary evidence.
The Growth and Infrastructure Act 2013 (effective from 1 October 2013) introduced a new set of prescribed application forms and extended the period for which a deposit is valid to 20 years for statements and declarations deposited after that date. Previously it was 10 years. The County Council was also required to post a notice of the deposit on its website and on the relevant land. However the requirement for a notice to be posted on the land was later removed for deposits received after 1 December 2016.
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the county council is required to make landowner deposits available for public inspection so you can find out where land is affected by these deposits in your local area online.