The Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT), has published the results of its second survey on the impact of Covid-19 on public rights of way.

The survey, which was designed with the Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management (IPROW), ran from 6–13 May. It was completed before the Prime Minister’s announcement relaxing some of the restrictions on outside exercise came into effect on the 13 May.

Rights of Way Officers from over 45 local authorities responded to the survey, which has found a continued increase in usage of public rights of way even before the restrictions were eased.

87% of responding councils have had reports of unilateral blocking or closures of rights of way by landowners. Over 90% are reporting some reduction or disruption to services, in part because of redeployment of staff, but most local authorities have been able to continue essential repairs and maintenance.

In the first survey, local authorities reported an increase in tensions between landowners and members of the public over the increased use of public rights of way and the difficulties in maintaining social distancing. In this second survey, 44% of responding councils report a continued increase in tensions, while 44% say levels remain the same as they were in early April (but higher than normal).

Landowners are not allowed to close or block public footpaths by law, but councils recognise that this is a difficult time for everyone and are not using enforcement powers. Instead, local authorities are working with landowners to provide guidance, advice and support on how to manage rights of way safely by fixing notices and tying back gates, where possible, to maintain social distancing.

Nigel Riglar, President of ADEPT said: “It is clear that before lockdown measures on outdoor exercise were relaxed, there was an increase in use of public rights of way and that this has led to some tensions in tourist areas that are asking visitors to stay away.

Local authorities are continuing to provide essential maintenance services and are working with landowners to resolve issues. We recognise that there are challenges, but also that the rights of way network is essential in keeping people active and healthy so we are asking the public to be understanding of local communities’ concerns as they enjoy their walks.”

Chris Miller, IPROW President, said: “Whilst the easing of restrictions has brought greater freedom of movement for the public to exercise, we must remain mindful of the pressure that this will put on local communities and the challenges that increased usage of local rights of way networks brings, especially whilst seeking to maintain social distancing protocols.”

The results of the survey can be found on the ADEPT website:

Definition of Highway