Here is a report from the North Yorkshire County Council regarding countryside access.
The government has specifically stated that Rights of Way currently remain open, which means that the NYCC Countryside Access Service have no legal basis on which to close any footpath across the network specifically due to the virus. Many landowners have asked the team to close paths that run through their properties, but there is no legislative basis on which to do this.
In very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using such routes, landowners may:
- tie gates open if it is safe to do so, so that walkers do not need to touch the gate
- offer an alternative route around gardens and farmyards only where it is safe to do so (where permission has been gained from relevant landowners and the route is safe for users and livestock) provided that the original right of way is maintained
- temporarily display 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
A notice must not imply that there is any doubt about the use of the existing right of way or use of access land.
If a land owner 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.
While signs are not a lawful closure, and people can make their own decision as to whether they want to continue to use the route, you should bear in mind that the landowner has taken this action because they feel there is a risk of transmission.
We would ask that everyone is mindful to people’s concerns and consider avoiding using those paths which pass through gardens and/or pass very closely to agricultural and residential properties if possible. Please remember that the countryside is a working environment as well as a source of recreation.
If a landowner or persons on a property have approached you and you have felt intimidated due to their behaviour and actions, this should be reported to the police.
It has been noted also that Police posters are appearing on a number of paths (see attached photo). It would appear that these have been issued by local police, but they have nothing to do with NYCC, and do not constitute a formal closure of the path. They are simply polite reminders to be mindful of where you are walking. If you want further information about such a sign that you have seen, I would suggest you contact the nearest police department, as the CAS team have nothing to do with the erection of these signs.
Any path closure issues that are reported to CAS are being logged, and letters sent to landowners to remind them of their duties to keep footpaths open. Once lockdown is lifted, we will send volunteers out to check whether the signs/obstructions have been removed. If they have not, then the team can move straight to enforcement action to ensure this is done immediately.