3 March 2000
No liability for ramblers’ injuries

By FWi staff

LANDOWNERS will not be liable if walkers injure themselves as they walk across open countryside under proposals contained in the new Countryside Bill.

Occupiers will not be liable for injuries regarding natural features. They will only be responsible for injuries from farm machinery or other man-made features

Environment minister Michael Meacher launched the bill, described as the biggest piece of rural legislation for 50 years, on Friday (3 March).

It would not be landowners responsibility if walkers were injured by, for example, a branch falling from a tree, he said.

He added: “If someone walking on access land falls and sprains and ankle, it will be their responsibility and not that of the landowner.”

Baroness Young, chairman of English Nature, had warned that wildlife could have been damaged if farmers had “tidied up” their land to avoid claims.

However, the new Bill will also introduce legislation so that farmers on Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSIs) will have to enhance their land.

The proposals mean that farmers will only receive compensatory payments if they positively improve SSSI land rather than neglect it.

Ministers believe that neglect, rather than damaging activities cited by environmentalists, is the main problem for SSSI areas.

“Neglect of SSSIs will be countered by only paying landowners for the enhancement,” said Mr Meacher.

For the first time, conservation agencies will also be given the power to prevent damaging activities on wildlife sites, he added.

Penalties will increase to a maximum of 20,000 for deliberate damage to SSSIs. Powers to order restoration of damaged SSSIs will also be introduced.