Farmers are being warned to check online apps for ‘fake footpaths’ after a network of unofficial paths was discovered covering farmland near Peterborough.
Zoe Mee of Lyveden Farm, Nassington, Northamptonshire was shocked when a farm worker showed her a map on a social media app that depicted new routes for walkers alongside the farm’s existing rights of way.
After contacting mapping app producers, she believes walkers may have added their own routes for people to use, without distinguishing them from the legally-established footpaths.
“I can’t believe that people can just add routes across your land like this,” she said.
“We have people who shoot pigeons and rabbits on the farm to protect crops and they are given maps of all the official footpaths and bridleways to ensure they keep clear of the public. If online maps are directing people away from the official routes it is putting them at risk.”
Ms Mee is also concerned about potential harm to wildlife and the environment if walkers trespass on field margins and other land managed under environmental schemes.
“Farmers should check to see if footpaths have been added. It is possible to get them removed by contacting the companies that provide the maps online for other mobile apps to use,” she said.
NFU Access Adviser Martin Rogers said the NFU was talking to a number of organisations that produce maps on mobile apps, to raise awareness of the importance of accurately portraying the right of way network.
“Checking online apps, and getting in contact with their owners, are important steps when you believe there are errors on their system,” he said.
“If you do discover that routes have erroneously been added to mobile apps, it is important to make it clear that you do not intend to dedicate these routes as legal rights of way."
Mr Rogers said that signs could be placed at obvious locations along any fake footpath, such as gates, making it clear that there was no public right of way over the route.
Access could also be prevented by using locking gates or installing barriers. However, it was important not to obstruct legal rights of way or other rights of access.