Farmers Weekly’s Business Clinic experts offer free advice on legal, finance, tax, insurance, farm management and land issues.
Here Becky Smyth – Associate Solicitor, Thrings – offers guidance on the rights to a gated farm lane.
Q I bought my farm mid-1980 from a farming family, including a gated lane between my fields and those of my neighbour. My neighbours wish to start using it, and tell me it is not registered with my farm. Can they use it without my permission?
A It sounds like your neighbours are pinning their hopes on the lane not only being unregistered but also on the absence of a legal owner, to use the lane unchallenged.
Just because the lane is unregistered does not mean there is no legal owner. The unregistered land system runs in tandem with the registered system, and both remain valid. A change of ownership now usually triggers the statutory requirement to register ownership at the Land Registry, but not always.
Becky Smyth, Associate Solicitor, Thrings
You mention you bought from a farming family: we often see farms that were passed through generations without triggering that requirement to register, meaning ownership is still proved with the original deeds.
It is possible, therefore, that you were the first to register this farm, and may still have the original title deeds.
See also: Can I cut off neighbour’s right of way?
The process of first registration can be tricky, as the deeds can include historic plans based on out-of-date Ordnance Survey maps, where the boundaries can be misleading, changed or even absent, or a description is misinterpreted.
These need the attention of a surveyor to mark the actual extent on the Land Registry’s index map and then produce the plan of the land being conveyed. As a consequence, we do sometimes see boundaries mistakenly registered, but this does not diminish underlying right to the legal ownership.
The first thing to check, therefore, is your original deeds, to see if the lane was simply omitted. If so, it can be easily rectified, and you can show your neighbour the correct boundary including your lane.
Don’t be disheartened if it is not immediately apparent as descriptions and plans can be difficult to interpret.
Check with a solicitor
Do get them checked by a solicitor with the relevant experience and be aware that there is some discretion around proving ownership where deeds are unclear or originals are missing. Although it is a more complex application, it could be worth it.
Even in the absence of deeds to the lane, all is not lost. Your sole use of it during your ownership, and the fact it is enclosed, are strong supporting evidence for a successful claim of ownership through occupation and long use.
You would need to make a statement of fact and meet the Land Registry’s other expectations, so taking specific advice is recommended.
If you can establish ownership, then your neighbour would need to seek your permission to use it (for which you may want to charge a premium and limit the type of use), but without any arrangement with you, they have no right to do so.
As a last resort, you may also consider a claim for partial ownership based on the common law Ad medium filum principle, which states that the boundary of land adjacent to a road is deemed to lie in the centre of that road.
While that would not be full ownership (and your neighbour could claim the same for the other half), you would at least create an equal playing field for a negotiation to agree who will own and use it.
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