Fresh advice issued on use of footpaths during coronavirus crisis

As farmers complain about the effect increased footfall on public rights of way is having on their families and businesses, Natural England has issued fresh advice on what they can and can’t do.

The government agency stresses that the best way for people to protect themselves against Covid-19 is to stay at home. But it acknowledges that exercising once a day is important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

See also: Poll – should farm footpaths be closed over coronavirus?

“Exercise in green space has the added benefit of contact with nature, which we know is good for our wellbeing,” said interim chief executive Marian Spain in an operational update.

The Natural England boss was adamant that landowners do not have the legal right to block or obstruct public rights of way.

However, in limited circumstances, where large numbers of people are using such routes, she suggested landowners consider the following:

  • Tie gates open, if it is safe to do so, so walkers do not need to touch the gate.
  • Put up temporary notices, politely encouraging users to follow social-distancing guidelines and consider finding alternative routes that do not pass through gardens or farmyards.
  • Offer an alternative route around gardens and farmyards, but only where it is safe to do so and only with the relevant landowner’s permission.


The problems of increased public use of rural areas to exercise has been highlighted by NFU Cymru.

“Greater visitor numbers have been a cause for high levels of anxiety within some farming families, particularly where public footpaths are located in close proximity to farmhouses, buildings and yards,” said rural affairs chairman Hedd Pugh.

“In some instances, family members may be in self-isolation due to displaying coronavirus symptoms or falling into a vulnerable group. We are urging people to follow the guidance and not to travel, for the protection of everyone.”

To assist farmers, NFU Cymru has developed signs that can be used where public rights of way pass through gardens and farmyards. These can be downloaded by members only in Welsh and English from the union’s website.

The Farmers Union of Wales has produced similar downloadable material for all to use.

‘Low risk’

Meanwhile, Natural  England insists that the risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way and other paths is “very low”, as long as people maintain social distancing.

“But, if possible, try to avoid using footpaths that may take you through a farmstead or other rural business where social distancing may be difficult,” said Ms Spain.

She is also urging walkers to follow official guidance on using green spaces and to use the Countryside Code.

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