Lord Dyson commented, “We have been told there are believed to be between 500 and 1,000 cases in England and Wales where public footpaths and bridleways set out and appointed by commissioners are not currently recorded in the relevant definitive maps.”
John Andrews, of the Ramblers Association, was clearly delighted by the ruling but Mr Blanch, the farmer described the ruling as “dire”.
However, it is not just Mr Blanch who will be concerned about the consequences of this ruling; there will be many unsuspecting landowners out there who may be vulnerable to similar claims being made on their land for public rights of way that in reality may not have been used in living memory.
Another Appeal Court case over rights of way across a block of land sold to two different parties also gives cause for concern.
The claimants alleged that they had right of way over bridleways on the land, vital to the livery business they had established. But the defendant, who ran a well known shoot from his land, was concerned about the impact on his business. He said any use on horseback must be restricted to the private use that existed at the time of the sale and he was successful in the lower court.
But the Court of Appeal found an implied grant of a right of way because there had been continuous use of the tracks before the land was divided to be sold. The moral of the story is that whether you are buying or selling land, rights of way should be ascertained prior to exchange of contract. Discovering unknown rights of way could place a severe restriction on future use or development of the land, thus affecting its value and the owner’s own ability to exploit the asset.