Rural groups call for law change to allow temporary footpath re-routing following increase in livestock related walker deaths

Leading rural groups have joined forces to call for a change in the law to improve safety on public rights of way following an increase in the number of people being killed in accidents involving livestock.

It comes as a result of an increase in incidents involving livestock and walkers, with a spike in fatal accidents.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), National Farmers Union (NFU), Countryside Alliance (CA) and Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) are asking for an amendment to the 1980’s Highways Act which allow a temporary diversion of a right of way.

The consortium has written to Rural Affairs Minister, Lord Gardiner, outlining how the amendment would enable farmers to temporarily divert public rights of way where livestock are present.

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Being able to create the diversion would help reduce the risk of any more serious incidents happening to visitors in the countryside and allow farmers to carry on running their businesses safely and effectively. The proposal provides a temporary diversion for a limited period of time, following a short notice period with clear notification placed at either end of the route.

Deputy president of the CLA, Mark Tufnell, inset, said: “We believe that our proposal will help save lives. There have been a number of tragic incidents recently of walkers being killed by livestock while visiting the countryside. Our priority is people’s safety, and by amending the Highways Act landowners will be empowered to take the necessary steps to protect the public.”

The idea was sparked by a pilot scheme in Cornwall, which used permissive paths – a route landowners allow the public to use – to offer an alternative route when livestock are being grazed.

Although this is an option the consortium said remains a useful tool for landowners, permissive paths are not suitable in all instances as the original route must remain open, leaving walkers exposed to potential risk.

Being able to put a temporary diversion would solve the current issues without these drawbacks, which includes existing rights of way remaining permanently open.

TFA National vice-chairman, Robert Martin, said: “The devastating loss of life that we have experienced recently in the countryside could be prevented easily by taking the simple and reasonable approach we have outlined.”

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James Mitchinson