Coronavirus and Rights of Way
Updated Government guidance is that the best way to protect yourself and others from coronavirus is to stay alert.
Exercise is still important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing, so the government has said people can leave their homes for unlimited exercise, including travelling to do so.
Rights of way near to people's homes can provide a great place to exercise, but some footpaths and bridleways go very near to people’s homes and to working farms and stables.
This page provides guidance to path users and to landowners on how to get the best balance so people can get their daily exercise while also keeping everyone safe.
Advice for rights of way users
When using public footpaths and bridleways for exercise, please:
- Do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.
- You do not need to socially distance from members of your household or support bubble.
- You can meet outdoors in groups of up to six people from different households.
- Check government guidance for further information on what you can and can’t do.
- Follow social distancing guidelines when meeting with anyone from outside your household, including those working on the land.
- Leave gates as you find them - some landowners may tie gates open at this time to avoid the need for path users to touch the gate.
- Consider using any alternative routes suggested that enable you to avoid going near houses and working farm or stable areas.
- Hand wash or sanitise when you return home.
- Stay on paths and keep dogs on a lead around livestock and away from other people or dogs.
- Follow the countryside code.
If you encounter a problem when using the path network please report it to us.
Please note: we operate a rights of way charter to manage the path network but the target deadlines are affected by the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Whilst we will endeavour to respond to the more serious category 1 and 2 issues within our normal time scales, this may not be possible at this time.
Issues categorised as ploughing and cropping or 3 and 4 will be addressed only if resources allow.
We are not currently being supported by volunteers due to the pandemic and our own staff may be needed to support Staffordshire’s more vulnerable residents and assist in other areas at this time.
The county council and DEFRA are aware of the concerns raised by landowners that the use of public rights of way that run through gardens, farmyards and schools is increasing the risk of exposure to the coronavirus to residents and farm workers.
The risk of the coronavirus being passed on to others from people using public rights of way and other paths and trails is considered to be very low as long as people follow the government's instructions to maintain social distancing.
What cannot legally be done, unless the government changes the law, is the closure of any part of the highway network. To do otherwise could be a criminal offence.
However, in very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using such routes, landowners may consider the following measures:
- tying gates open if it is safe to do so, so that walkers do not need to touch the gate
- temporarily displaying polite notices that encourage users to respect local residents and workers by following social distancing guidelines and consider using alternative routes that do not pass through gardens, farmyards or schools. The signage should be advisory and not act as a deterrent to legitimate usage of the path network. A notice must not imply that there is any doubt about the use of the existing right of way. The County Council has produced a notice in line with this guidance which you can download here:
- offering an alternative route around gardens and farmyards only where it is safe to do so (you must gain permission from relevant landowners and make sure the route is safe for users and livestock) provided that the original right of way is maintained. If a landowner offers an alternative route, they must ensure that it is safe to use and that the existing right of way is maintained so that users with differing abilities have a choice. The County Council has produced a notice in line with this guidance which you can download here:
These temporary measures must be lifted as soon as social distancing measures are relaxed.
Guidance from Defra
Please see this guidance note from Defra which includes further notes on legal considerations.