Q&A: Can I shoot across a public footpath?

Know your rights! Our reader has a conundrum… the private land on which he shoots has a public pathway leading through it, does this mean he must pack away his gun as he crosses? 

Any shooter on a permission has equal rights to someone using a public footpath running across it

Q: I have permission to shoot vermin and pests on a farm. It is all private property, but a public footpath runs between two of the farmer’s fields, then through the farmyard itself before crossing another field. All of the land, including the path, is private property, but the footpath –marked on OS maps – is a public right of way. Obviously I don’t shoot when anyone is on the path, or shoot across the path, but how does the law stand?

Do I have to put my air rifle in a case when moving from one building across the path to another? Can I shoot from the path, which is the farmer’s property but which the public have access to, into one of his fields where they don’t? What is my legal position when I’m standing in his yard, through which the footpath theoretically runs, shooting into the barn?

A: In England and Wales it is an offence without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to discharge any firearm within 50 feet 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. [Section 161(2) of the Highways Act 1980 as amended]. It is important to remember that 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 – for example,
if they have been forced to make a detour.

For the purposes of Section 161 (2) of the Highways Act 1980 (as amended), a ‘highway’ is restricted to a public right of way for the passage of vehicles and does not include footpaths, cycle tracks or bridleways. Therefore the 50 feet rule described above does not apply to rights of ways that cross private land, such as footpaths.

The Firearms Act does not provide a statutory definition of what is meant by ‘lawful authority’ or ‘reasonable excuse’. We believe that ‘lawful authority’ would not necessarily apply to sportsmen and women as this seems to relate to those issued with firearms in connection with official duties such as the police or military personnel. ‘Reasonable excuse’ would apply to sportsmen shooting over land with permission.

When the footpath runs across private land, the ownership of the land and sporting rights are unaltered. Therefore a person with the shooting/sporting rights has as much right to shoot on or over footpaths on their land as members of the public have to walk (to pass and repass) along it as a means of communication. So the public and the shooters have a concurrent right to the footpath, and it is up to both parties to not obstruct the other.

However if you shoot over footpaths, only do so if you have permission to drop shot over the land on the other side. To fire onto land that you have no right to shoot into or over
is ‘constructive trespass’. While this is a civil matter, BASC strongly advises not to do this. It is also a basic safety precaution not to shoot into cover where you cannot be sure what your projectile(s) will hit. It is especially important to apply this when shooting near footpaths obscured by hedges or foliage. It is good practice to only shoot across footpaths where you can see approaching users from a long way off and be certain you will not cause danger or alarm. In the case of air weapons, it is a criminal offence to fire an air pellet outside the boundary of your permitted premises.

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Posted in Features, Hunting, Q&A

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