Defra and Natural England have advised that the risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way and other paths and trails is considered to be very low as long as people follow instructions to maintain social distancing.
Landowners and local authorities do not have the legal right to block or obstruct public rights of way or access land. However, in very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using such routes, Defra and Natural England have advised that landowners may consider the following measures:
- tying gates open if it is safe to do so, so that walkers do not need to touch the gate.
- temporarily displaying polite notices that encourage users to respect local residents and workers by following social distancing guidelines and consider using alternative routes that do not pass through gardens, farmyards or schools.
- offering an alternative route around gardens and farmyards only where it is safe to do so provided that the original right of way is maintained. This must be
The Defra and Natural England advice is clear that:
- If a landowner offers an alternative route, they must ensure that it is safe to use and that the existing right of way or use of access land is maintained so that users with differing abilities have a choice.
- A notice must not imply that there is any doubt about the use of the existing right of way or use of access land - the notice is polite request as there is no power for landowners to close or obstruct a public right of way or use of access land. Defra/ Natural England have produced this template notice for ‘requests to the public to use an alternative path’.
- These temporary measures must be lifted as soon as social distancing measures are relaxed.
On 24 March, the Welsh Government took steps to close some sites and footpaths in Wales that were believed to present a risk of large numbers of people gathering together, coming in close proximity to each other and areas that pose a high risk to the spread of the Coronavirus infection.
As one may expect with something implemented so quickly, there has been an inconsistent response by authorities – most of the Brecon Beacons is closed, almost all the Pembrokeshire Coast path, and swathes of Snowdonia. Some local authorities have fully closed their country parks, whilst others have taken a more cautious approach.
The Ramblers appreciate the unprecedented nature of the current crisis, and the need for strong measures to tackle the spread of this virus, and therefore ask that walkers respect the closures announced in Wales. We have joined with other prominent outdoor organisations in writing to the Welsh government urging them to keep a focus on helping people to safely access local exercise opportunities near to their homes, while also guarding against unnecessary or inappropriate path and green space closures. You can read the full detail.
We will of course continue to work with land managers and the Welsh government to ensure these closures are reversed as soon as is sensible.
Ramblers Scotland strongly supports the Scottish Government's approach to access during COVID-19
Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham released a statement on 9 April stressing the importance of using access rights responsibly during the coronavirus outbreak. Read it here.
Ramblers Scotland director Brendan Paddy says: “Ramblers Scotland strongly supports the approach taken by Scottish Government, which is based on the principles of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. In these extraordinary times, exercising access rights responsibly is more important than ever. Walkers should make extra efforts, including responding to reasonable requests from land managers, to help keep everybody safe and avoid disruption to food production.”
Further detailed guidance is available from Scottish Natural Heritage here.