Carter Jonas
Carter Jonas

Ways to protect your land from public access

A timely reminder to landowners on protecting their land.

For centuries landowners have been taking steps to protect their land from unwanted visitors.

Many landowners are unaware of Rights of Way and Village Greens. Both are acquired by allowing the general public to access your land for a use, be it for an annual event or simply to cross a field on a dog walk for a sustained period (implies just one dog walk grants access whereas it takes years).  As a landowner you may not have given permission for public access but if you ignore this and do not take steps to stop  access, you are seen to be agreeing to it by your silence, making a small problem a potentially permanent problem.

The problem with allowing unregulated public access to land is that it can restrict or even stop future uses of the land. An application for a village green site on your land can mean that the community have a right to buy your land, if you ever want to sell it. The value of the land is then affected by the public access and restricted use. Developing the land for something other than agriculture or forestry is when a problem is often identified. 

There are several things you can do to protect your land and the simplest of all is to stop access by securing gates and blocking up gaps on your boundary. Fences have historically not only been erected to keep livestock in but to keep unwanted visitors out. Fences should be repaired and renewed to define your ownership boundary and provide a physical barrier to stop access.

Erecting signs is also vital to show the public that there is no right of access. This is especially important if fencing your boundary is not possible. Signs should state that there is no right of access allowed and that the land is private. Signs should be placed at every access point to the land, normally a gateway but if there  are no fences, signs should be placed at regular intervals to prevent misunderstanding.

If fences and signs are being continuously vandalised or removed, landowners should take photographs as evidence that attempts were made to stop access. Landowners should also submit an application, under the Highways Act 1980, to their local council to register and acknowledge all known rights of way. The council will put signs up to tell the public that the process is happening and if the public feel there are other routes, which are not formally recognised, the matter is brought to light and the landowner can deal with them. Does this relate to village green only If public access is then claimed in the future on the land, the application helps support that at the time, no other use existed because the public were given chance to claim an extra use. This application now lasts for 20 years – does this only relate to rights of way, once a village green established there are not changes

While the law may state that further action, such as writing to, or physically confronting trespassers is not necessary, it helps show that you are taking a proactive approach to stopping access. Encounters can lead to confrontation but you simply need to point out that the land is private and there is no right of access. Encounters should be recorded, in a diary or simple letter to your advisor, so that there is a record that action was taken. 

The local community is often very important to all landowners and stopping access completely is usually not welcome. Granting a permissive right of way, recorded with the local council, allows the public access to your land but in a control and regulated way. Permissive rights of access ultimately mean that the landowner can stop or change the access in the future as desired. 

Bristol City FC learned the hard way, when a village green application was approved on land they planned to develop into a new stadium. This put an end to a multimillion pound project. A cautionary tale, to say the least.

Tim Jones

Tim JonesFRICS

Partner - Head of Rural Division

Tim is head of the firm's Rural Division and of the Cambridge office, although he spends a considerable amount of time in London.  He has over 20 years experience in advising institutional and pri...

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