Rights of way should remain open during lockdown *H&H Plus*

  • Land owners are being reminded that it is not legal to block public rights of way, while those using the paths need to follow social distancing guidelines and treat others with respect and courtesy. H&H speaks to organisations representing both sides...

    Landowners are being reminded they should not block public rights of way during the coronavirus lockdown.

    The issue has been highlighted after a rider found a bridleway in Norfolk blocked by two 10ft wide gates.

    Caroline Denson-Smith told H&H she discovered the gates on foot, on 6 April. When she returned a few days later on horseback, she had to dismount to open them.

    “You have to lift them up to move them but they’re quite heavy and not everyone can get off and do that. I reported it to the council and there is now a chicane so you can go through – but from the road they still look shut,” she said.

    “I feel the landowner is taking advantage of the situation to try and stop people using the bridleway.”

    Caroline believes the gates add an increased risk during lockdown restrictions.

    “The bridleway is very wide and there is plenty of room to do social distancing. I do understand some farmers have had terrible issues with people using the countryside more especially when it’s a working farm or they have livestock – but this isn’t the case here.”

    British Horse Society director of access Mark Weston told H&H rights of way should legally not be blocked or obstructed.

    “The UK governments have issued guidance in respect of taking outdoor exercise, as well as on public rights of way, following concerns from landowners,” he said. “It is important everyone follows social distancing guidelines and treats one another with respect and courtesy.”

    A Countryside Alliance spokesman told H&H in line with minimising pressure on the NHS, if it is essential to hack out, riding on bridleways will always be preferable to riding on roads.

    “The roads are generally quieter at this time, but enabling key workers to carry out their jobs with minimal disruption to their journeys should be a priority for all,” he said.

    “It remains critical for those using bridleways to respect landowners when riding through private land. Landowners may have health concerns or could be shielding vulnerable people.”

    A Norfolk County Council spokesman told H&H people are still able to use public rights of way in their local areas for one form of daily exercise.

    “We have looked into the issue and have been assured the route in question remains open,” he said.

    The British Equestrian Federation’s advice during the coronavirus pandemic is not to ride, unless strictly necessary.

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