Can Public Footpaths still be used during the COVID-19 pandemic?

If you can access public footpaths from your house without travelling by vehicle then you can use the paths that are open but you will need to ensure that you need to keep 2 metres apart from others outside your household at all times whilst outdoors. When choosing your walking route you should bear in mind that walks down narrow country paths could make it hard to keep 2 metres apart, particularly in heavily populated areas and along popular walking routes.

You should also be mindful when using gates and stiles of other people passing through these and that landowners may need to use them multiple times a day. You should wash your hands and or sanitise as soon as possible after touching shared surfaces.

There are key differences between what the Welsh Government has done and the rules in England. The Welsh Regulations restrict people to one outing for exercise per day but in England (and Scotland) this is a matter of guidance.

The Welsh Regulations require relevant local authorities to close footpaths and access land which are liable to having large numbers of people congregating on them. Snowdonia’s mountains are closed, even to locals, as is Pembrokeshire’s coastal path and much of the Brecon Beacons. The Regulations also allow National Park (NP) Authorities to close paths “liable to large numbers of people congregating or being in close proximity to each other…”  Offenders are liable to fines or arrest. The police, NP and Natural Resources Wales staff are allowed to use reasonable force to remove people.

In England, there is currently no advice or requirement for public footpaths and access land to be closed or restricted in any way.  This is, of course, subject to review and in the event of any changes to legislation or Government guidance, which there could well be in the upcoming reviews, this may change.

If you are a landowner or live or work near to public footpaths and are concerned about the close proximity of walkers you cannot obstruct the public from using the footpaths but there are actions that you can take to protect yourselves and others. These include regularly cleaning gates and stiles and keeping gates tied open, where it is safe to do so so that it is not necessary to touch the gate when using the path.  Landowners can also invite the public to use an alternative route, known as a “permissive path”.  However, the definitive alignment of the public right of way must remain open and available at all times, and any permissive path must be arranged under the landowner’s own liabilities and insurance cover and must have agreement from all landowners. Landowners would be advised to waymark any permissive path as such and we or the relevant Local Authority’s Public Rights of Way team can provide further advice on this.

Although these restrictions are correct at the time of writing they may change again and particularly where the public are not seen to be following the Regulations sensibly.

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