WHILE we are all trying to follow Government advice on restricting the spread of Covid-19 by staying at home and only undertaking essential journeys, the longer the lockdown has gone on, the more important it has become for people’s physical and mental wellbeing to get regular exercise, writes Ian Barnard of Crombie Wilkinson Solicitors.

The Government has acknowledged that people can leave their homes to take this exercise, and others will be lucky enough to be able to enjoy their gardens. Greenspaces in parks and towns can still be used, providing that the Government advice on social distancing is followed.

For those that live in more rural areas, such as Ryedale, all public rights of ways remain open.

However, there should be an element of common sense involved for those using these paths, and so wherever possible, if the path goes through a farmstead or other rural business where social distancing may be difficult, then you should consider turning back or finding an acceptable alternative route.

It is also worth reminding people when using public rights of way, to follow the Countryside Code of “Respect, Protect, Enjoy”:

  • Respect – consider the local community and those working in the countryside, don’t interfere with farm machinery and animals and make sure that gates are left as they are found, and paths are followed where possible;
  • Protect – make sure that you don’t harm animals, plants or trees and try not to leave any trace of your visit, take your litter home with you, and keep dogs under effective control;
  • Enjoy – make sure that you know the area you are in and check for any restrictions and be aware of the weather.

From a landowners’ point of view, while it might be tempting to simply “close” or block the path, there is no legal right to block or obstruct public rights of way.

If a landowner becomes concerned that large numbers of people are using the right of way, then the following alternative measures should be considered:

  • If it is safe to do so, consider whether or not it is possible to keep gates open so that walkers do not need to touch the gate;
  • Display temporary notices asking walkers to respect local residents and workers by following the social distancing; guidelines, and consider using an acceptable alternative route.

Offer a temporary alternative route to avoid gardens and farmyards but only where safe to do so. The original right of way must still be maintained.

It is also prudent for landowners to make it easy for any visitors to act responsibly, to minimise any adverse impact to the land i.e keep paths clear, well marked and well signposted and give clear, polite guidance about why there may be restrictions.

The vast majority of landowners and visitors work together to ensure the countryside is enjoyed by all at the best of times, and in the current difficult times, it is more important than ever for people to have an outlet to help them through to the easing of restrictions and the eventual reversion to a more “normal” way of life.

If you are using public rights of way as part of your exercise during lockdown, then please remember to follow the above.

Phone the Crombie Wilkinson team on 01653 600070.