Truth about the crime of countryside trespassing revealed by Langleys Solicitors' Andrew Fearn
As you walk around the countryside, you occasionally come across the old chestnut, ‘Trespassers will be prosecuted’.
Of course, nothing of the sort will happen because trespassing on property belonging to another is not a criminal offence. If damage is caused in the act of trespassing, there may be a prosecution for causing criminal damage but that is a different issue.
Trespassing is a civil offence and the owner of the land may be entitled to claim damages for a loss incurred as a result of the trespass.
However, if the trespass is no more than walking along a field margin, carefully avoiding animals and any growing crops, it is difficult to see how a loss can be incurred.
On the other hand, trespassing for other illegal purposes such as poaching or even burglary will have other more serious consequences.
One of the more interesting cases about trespass in the last year or two originated in Wales.
The owner of the land had granted a lease of sporting rights to a company known as Clochfaen over some 4,000 acres. Subsequently, the owner had, together with adjoining owners, agreed to the erection of no less than six wind farms together with all the infrastructure works that go with such a major enterprise.
The wind farms themselves were not an issue because they did not encroach upon the land let for the sporting rights. However, as with many building projects, the developers needed extra, but temporary room, for the storage of materials, etc.
This is where it all went wrong and, in taking the extra room, they encroached upon the land subject to the sporting rights.
Clochfaen, the owner of the sporting rights, sued for trespass and claimed damages.
It was said in the judgment that it was uncultivated and poor land over which sporting rights had not been exercised for 60 years or more.
Having said that, it was undoubtedly a significant trespass, albeit temporary in nature.
Technically, the sporting rights had been interfered with for a period.
However, the court seemed to take a dim view of the claim and awarded the princely sum of £100 by way of damages.
This acknowledged the ‘wrong’ but, at the same time, reflected the lack of damage caused as a consequence.
Whatever the notice may threaten about trespass, it is always best to respect both the land and its ownership and simply follow the Countryside Code.