Landowners are being warned to be aware of ‘fake footpaths’ circulating within websites, social media and mobile apps.
Websites, social media sites and walking mobile apps are detailing country walks which do not follow dedicated public footpaths or are even stating that new footpaths have been created. With long use of such routes landowners are at risk of the ways being deemed as dedicated under section 31 of the Highways Act 1980.
The first step is to identify any websites, social media groups and mobile apps and check whether your land is detailed within any of the walks described. If you discover that your land is detailed and the incorrect routes are being used then contact the person behind the publication in order to report the error. Continue to check whether the route has been altered online and be vigilant to the route’s use.
A more general form of defence to any application is to deposit a map and statement to your local authority under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980. The statement identifies any accepted rights of way and confirms that the landowner does not intend to dedicate any new ways.
The effect of a section 31 deposit is to help protect the land from any claims arising from user evidence during the period of time for which the deposit is valid. This would include any claims arising from unauthorised routes advertised through social media.
Katy Moss is a solicitor in the Property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.