Public paths and common land are in need of better protection
Britain's oldest national conservation body is launching a campaign to provide greater protection for public paths, common land and town and village greens when land is sold.
The Open Spaces Society is attempting to tackle a lack of legislation which clouds whether these features exist on a property on purchase leading to potentially costly disputes.
Currently, it is not compulsory to ask questions or disclose information about whether public land is attached to a property.
Kate Ashbrook, general secretary of the Open Spaces Society and a member of the Dartmoor Preservation Association, said: "We have argued that questions about the existence of public paths, including claims for public paths, common land and town and village greens should be on the list of compulsory inquiries.
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"Too often purchasers discover later that land that they have bought has public rights over it.
"It is pretty devastating for a purchaser later to discover that the land falls into one of these categories. Such ignorance has led to problems where paths have been blocked and commons built on. Much private and public money is wasted on these muddles.
"It is far better to know what you are buying from the start."
The public has a right when on a path to pass and repass on foot, horseback, bike, by carriage or in a vehicle, depending on the status of the route.
For a common, the public has the right to walk, and on some to ride, while on a village green local people have rights of recreation.
It is illegal to obstruct a public path, or to encroach on or develop a green or, without ministerial consent, a common. A purchaser of such land would be severely restricted in what they could do.
Graham Ronan, chairman of Cornwall Ramblers, said introducing compulsory questions would end disputes over land and current confusion over where public rights of way are, saving a potentially harmful impact on tourism.
He said there were multiple examples of where such instances have caused difficulty including in his home village of Ludgvan.
"It would be helpful to everybody and would settle the arguments because everybody would know exactly where they stand," he said.
"There are examples of it going on around the county.
"The number of times you come across a house all over the line of a public footpath, I feel sorry for the visitors coming down here.
"If it happens to people two or three times they are not going to come to Cornwall."