The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), is asking local authorities across England to complete an online survey on the impact of Covid-19 on public rights of way in their areas.
The plea for data comes at a time when the pressure on rights of way has surged as the public look to find new ways of taking exercise locally during the lockdown period. As a result, farmers and landowners are seeing more walkers crossing their land.
There have been reports of some local landowners attempting to close down or block off rights of way, which they do not have the legal right to do. Local authorities have been encouraging landowners to tie gates back and put up public notices so they can stay on the right side of the law, as well as encouraging the general public to abide by the Countryside Code.
Working in partnership with the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management (IPROW), the survey is designed to capture information on the impacts of Covid-19 on services.
The short survey asks questions on cutbacks to maintenance and enforcement work following a general scaling back to essential service provision across local authorities, the impacts of staff shortages and redeployment, and evidence of tensions between landowners and the public.
The information collated will be used to inform both organisations’ work with Defra, Natural England and the Local Government Association to inform emerging government guidance.
Paul Newark, Chair of ADEPT’s Rights of Way Managers Group said: “Public Rights of Way has, in common with many local authority services, been cut back over a prolonged period. We want to see what impacts the current pandemic have had to maintenance and get a picture of what that will mean for the network over the longer term as an inevitable backlog of work builds up.
“We have seen an increased use of rights of way that has sometimes led to tensions with farmers, landowners and residents when new walkers are unfamiliar with how to behave in the countryside or use gates and stiles safely. We would like to understand the extent of these problems across the country, and to share this evidence with government departments and agencies to better inform their decisions and advice.”
Chris Miller, IPROW President said: “During this unprecedented and uncertain time many have taken the advantage of using their local rights of way or other access networks to take their daily exercise. In doing so it has provided officers of local authorities with new challenges in trying to maintain a service at the same time as observing governmental guidelines. Understanding how authorities have approached this will aid in giving officers the right guidance and advice during this period and also for when we enter any recovery stage.”
Local authorities are receiving emails providing details of how to access the survey and the information to be captured. Once analysed, the results will be available on the ADEPT website.
The latest government advice on public rights of way is available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/operational-update-covid-19.