With daffodils now blooming in the hedgerows and lambs gambolling in the fields, we’re going to see a growing number of people out exploring the many beautiful rural landscapes that the North East has to offer.
Many of the places that they will be visiting will be reached via rights of ways that go across agricultural land, with landowners keeping their fingers crossed that visitors will treat the countryside with respect, as thankfully the great majority do.
Managing issues relating to rights of way is something that comes across my desk quite regularly, and with new rules regarding their registration changing earlier this year, it’s worth making sure you’re aware of the key facts about them, especially if you’re looking to buy land that has – or could have – rights of way running across it.
Generally, a right of way can be registered if the land in question was used in that way in the past, or if the land has been accessed by the public for at least 20 years and no-one has asked them to stop. What are known as ‘permissive’ rights of way can also be granted by landowners if they have no objection to it being there.
There has been a push by rural interest groups to get as many registrations made as possible as, until recently, a deadline of 2026 had been set for the registration of rights of way, but this deadline has now been dropped, meaning that claims will be able to be put forward by anyone at any time.
If you’re looking to buy a piece of land across which rights of way are thought to run, the obvious first step is to carry out desk research on what the situation around registered rights of way is, while talking in detail to the seller about their understanding of what’s on site is also essential.
You could also talk to local people about their knowledge of the area, though there is a chance that this will lead to residents looking to register what they believe to be rights of way which they’d previously thought about.
However, more important than all this is to make sure that you visit the site and see the evidence of what might be there with your own eyes.
Any unregistered rights of way that come to light after you’ve made your purchase could have an impact on, for example, any development plans that you’re making, not to mention the values associated with them.
Look for physical clues like tracks, trails and styles across the land which might indicate that people are walking through the area and try to get clarification from the landowner about any features that raise queries.
Better to ask awkward questions early than regret not having done so later, although you will have recourse against any seller that you eventually find out hasn’t told you the whole truth.
It is possible to divert or even extinguish rights of way in certain circumstances, but it’s better to proceed on a fully informed basis and to be sure that you’re fully aware of the lay of the land.