Understanding the “right to roam”

  • When the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) was first discussed six years ago, owners and prospective buyers of properties with land took fright. After all, the Act allows ramblers the right to roam across access land without having to keep to footpaths, and not everyone wants to find a group of complete strangers having a picnic 50yd from their stables.

    But what is CROW’s real impact on equestrian properties? The Act has now come into force in three regions — the south-east, lower north-west and central southern England — and the good news for equestrian buyers is that its effect on land used for horses seems pretty limited. CROW only allows the right to roam on mountain, moor, heath and down, on registered common land and where landowners voluntarily allow access.

    “A common misconception is that it confers the right to roam over more typical farmland. It does not,” explains David Legh of agent Fisher German.

    As Legh points out, much of the land that belongs to equestrian properties falls under the definition of farmed land, and is therefore outside the scope of the Act, as is land used to train racehorses.

    “In most cases it’s true that equestrian land won’t be affected because the majority of paddocks are quite heavily improved by land management,” agrees David Pardoe of Savills. But he warns: “This isn’t as simple as saying that horse land won’t be affected at all. And there are errors on the maps.”

    The bad news is that land that falls under CROW will be heavily affected by the new right to roam.

    “Footpaths and rights of ways do deter buyers, as will the CROW Act. The main concern is an intrusion of privacy,” says Richard Nocton of Woolley & Wallis.

    And, as Pardoe points out, once the land is mapped as open access in definitive maps, it is very hard to change this.

    “I think the right to appeal against open access classification has now closed and the statute only allows the country to be remapped every 10 years,” he says.

    And, of course, running costs may increase if insurance premiums go up for open access estates. The walking season has only just started, so there is no history of claims, but insurance is a serious potential problem.

    Landowners have a reduced level of liability towards people who exercise CROW rights across their property, but DEFRA recommends anyone concerned about liability under the Animals Act 1971 to seek legal advice.

    Kerry Dovey of White & Bowkers Solicitors explains that, should a horse kick a passing rambler, the owner could be liable if he knew the horse had a tendency to kick.

    “If he didn’t know, he shouldn’t be liable,” she explains. “But I would never advocate someone leaving a stallion or a broodmare due to foal in a field that was subject to CROW.”

    Dovey mentions a recent case when a farmer was held liable for cattle that escaped from his farm and hit a vehicle after a rambler left a gate open. Although the case referred to cattle and a right of way, she thinks the same could apply to horses and CROW land.

    “I think anyone with land subject to CROW should have public liability insurance.”

    A combination of lessened and increased insurance costs might eventually affect the prices of properties subject to CROW, although it is too early to tell.

    “It is difficult to isolate one element of a purchase price as the reason for reduced value,” says the national access advisor for the Country Landowners and Business Association, Caroline Bedell.

    “But if a potential purchaser were given the choice of two identical properties, and one had access land and the other did not, then nine out of 10 times it’s likely that the purchaser will go for the property without.”

  • This property focus was first published in Horse & Hound (9 June, ’05)

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