Rights of Way

July 2020

Public rights of way provide an opportunity for people to take exercise and get some fresh air in these difficult times. The government reports that 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.  However, use of paths is high and people live and work in close proximity to many of our public rights of way - many users and landowners will be especially concerned and vulnerable at this difficult time.  Please follow the national government advice on accessing green spaces safely:

  • follow the government guidance on social distancing. Natural England have asked users to, if possible, try to avoid using footpaths etc. that may take you through a farmstead or other rural business where social distancing may be difficult.
  • be sensible, courteous and considerate when using public rights of way at this time, as at all times. Respect other people and protect the natural environment. Remember your actions can affect people's lives and livelihoods. Take the time to read signage. Respect the measures that may have been put in place.
  • follow the Countryside Code (PDF 911KB): leave gates as you find them and keep dogs under close control at all times - Defra advise that you should keep your dog on a lead near livestock and away from other people/dogs. Leave no trace of your visit and take all of your litter home.  Do not use barbecues as they risk causing wildfires. 
  • when using gates and stiles be mindful that other people pass through these and that landowners may need to use them multiple times a day. Wash your hands and or sanitise as soon as possible after touching shared surfaces. 
  • keep to the definitive line of the path or use an alternative route if provided by the landowner.

The government has published advice on 'Staying Safe Outside Your Home'.  To stay safe, you must:

  • take hygiene precautions when you are outside
  • wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors
  • keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times
  • take hand sanitiser with you when you set off in case there are no handwashing facilities


COVID-19 information for landowners and property owners

We manage the public rights of way network in line with national government legislation and guidance and at present there is no advice or requirement for the public rights of way network to be closed or restricted in any way. The government reports that 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.

People living and working in close proximity to public rights of way are reminded that the public have a legal right to use a public right of way, and that they should not block or obstruct paths. Where residents living near public rights of way have concerns then they should exercise suitable precautions to ensure social distancing from people on the path and may wish to consider putting up signage advising people.  They may want to regularly clean any gate latches or other surfaces on any paths across their property, or landowners may wish to consider tying gates open if it is safe to do so, so that users of the path do not need to touch the gate.

Landowners may, in very limited circumstances where large numbers of people are using routes, consider:

  • informing the public using the public right of way of their responsibilities, by displaying an appropriate notice. This should not discourage use but alert users to their proximity to homes and working environments and to use appropriate and reasonable caution in terms of social distancing and hygiene practices. 
  • if suitable, installing a permissive path and invite users to use it as an alternative route.  However, the definitive alignment of the public right of way must remain open and available at all times. However, any permissive path is arranged under your own liabilities and insurance cover and have agreement from all landowners. 
  • temporarily displaying polite notices that encourage users to respect local residents and workers by considering using alternative routes that do not pass through gardens, farmyards or schools.
  • Public rights of way provide an opportunity for people to take exercise and get some fresh air in these difficult times. However, people should not congregate on public rights of way. If there is a particular problem with large numbers of people congregating on a right of way then the Police should be informed who have powers to disperse such groups.

If meeting an Officer of the Council on site or a County Council contractor, landowners are reminded of the need to maintain social distancing at all times. 

Conversations will be held by letter, phone and email as a preference. Any face to face discussions shall not contravene social distancing and any infringement will result in the withdrawal from the discussion.

The Council will respond to any further actions necessary in the event of any changes to legislation or Government guidance but at this time there are no provisions to close public rights of way.

Cumbria boasts one of the longest networks of rights of way in England and Wales, made up of Footpaths, Bridleways and Byways.  Did you know there are over 4,660 miles (7,441 km) of public rights of way in Cumbria?  That is the equivalent of walking to Kathmandu!

  • There are 3,386 miles (5,450km) of public footpaths,
  • There are 1,171 miles (1,885 km) of public bridleways,

  • There are 65 miles (106km) of public byways,            
  • There are also around 242 miles (390km) of unsurfaced minor roads, which provide valuable links.