Highways, Bridleways & Footpaths - Shooting Legislation
Shooting is an activity that often occurs on land where the public have right of access. James Mott looks at the current legislation specific to shooting near or over public rights of way.
If you own or have permission to carry out deer stalking activities on private property, chances are that said land is adjacent to a highway and or there are areas through the land where the public enjoy a right of access.
So what steps should we take to keep within the law as regard shooting on or near roads and public rights of way such as footpaths, bridleways etc.?
There is general confusion over what you can and can’t do, and the majority of people I surveyed confirmed this by saying (I paraphrase) ‘it is an offence to shoot within 50 feet of a public highway”.
Whilst this is correct to a point, it is not the whole truth and only relates to highways (not footpaths, bridleways etc.)
The Highways Act 1980
Laws relevant to shooting near roads and ‘ways’ can be found in section 161(2) of the Highways Act 1980 (and its amendments) and states:
If a person without lawful authority or excuse—
(a)lights any fire on or over a highway which consists of or comprises a carriageway; or
(b)discharges any firearm or firework within 50 feet of the centre of such a highway,
AND in consequence a user of the highway is injured, interrupted or endangered, that person is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale
Shooting on or near public highways
As stated above, in England & Wales (the highways act does not apply in Scotland) it is an offence without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to discharge any firearm within fifty feet (approx 15 metres) of the centre of a highway which consists of or comprises a carriageway, and in consequence a user of the carriageway is injured, interrupted or endangered.
Please Note: the discharge of a firearm is not prohibited in itself - it must also be proved that there was an injury, or that someone’s passage was interrupted or interfered with. An example of this might be they fell off their bike when they heard the gunshot and broke their wrist or simply that they were forced to take an alternative route.
So what is the definition of a ‘highway’?
For the purposes of Section 161 (2) of the Highways Act 1980 a
‘highway’ is restricted to a public right of way for the passage of vehicles
and thus it excludes footpaths, cycle tracks or bridleways. Therefore the fifty feet rule described above does not apply to rights of ways that cross private lands e.g. footpaths.
So can you shoot on a footpath or similar right of way – yes and no.
Shooting on or near footpaths and other public rights of way
A person with the shooting rights over private land which is crossed by a footpaths or bridleways may shoot on or over that footpath/bridleway.
In law the public and the shooter have equal rights to the footpath, and it is the responsibility of both parties not to get in the way of or obstruct each other.
Therefore a person with shooting rights may shoot on or over footpaths on their land
the public having the right to walk (to pass and re-pass) along it.
Apply Common Sense
However, if you do shoot over footpaths, only do so if you have permission to drop a bullet over the land on the other side.
It is good practice to only shoot on or across footpaths where you can see approaching users from a long way off and be certain you will not cause danger or alarm.
If a member of the public is using a public right of way that crosses or is in the vicinity of your shooting activities, the person has the right to pass and re-pass along the right of way without hindrance.
Therefore any shooting should be refrained from until they are at a distance where your activity should not cause any concern. This is particularly important if a bridleway is in use as a horse rider could be endangered by a startled horse.
Personally, I advise that if you see a member of the public approaching along a footpath, it is prudent to unload your firearm and leave the bolt open to avoid any potential misunderstanding.
Many of the public will simply not be aware of the legislation relating to public rights of way and to come across someone carrying a gun whilst out for a quiet walk in the country, could be disconcerting for them.
If they stop to chat, it’s best to quietly reassure them about what you are doing and that’s it quite safe for them. Then wait for them to pass (a good distance) before resuming your stalking activities.
For more information about UK Legislation affecting Deer Stalking follow this link: deer-stalking-uk-legislation
To read more from James Mott follow this link: check-your-equipment