Will signs protect your land against adverse rights?
The three most significant rights that could be acquired over land that could impact upon possible development are rights of way, recreational rights and rights of light. Rights could be claimed by long-term users who have continuously used the land for in excess of twenty years.
To minimise the risk of such claims being made against your land, regular presence on the land and well-maintained boundary structures will create an excellent form of protection. However this is not always possible to maintain, so other means will then need to be used. One of which is signage.
The purpose of signage
Clear signage gives notice that you do not permit access onto your land; anybody entering onto the land will be doing so by use “of force”. The law will not allow someone to acquire rights by way of force so the land will be protected. There are no official guidelines regarding what signage should say, the key message needs to be that the land is private and unauthorised access is not permitted.
The number of signs needed will depend upon the size of the land, how many unauthorised access points there are and for how long people have been accessing the land. The key point of signage is to ensure that no-one can enter onto your land without passing and being aware of one of your signs.
If signs are vandalised the best thing to do is to repair or replace them as soon as possible, however this may become a frequent and costly exercise. The law is willing to take a common sense approach. If it is clear that you have taken steps to erect signage to notify would-be peaceable users of your land that such use is not permitted, the law will be reluctant to put users who have vandalised your signs in a better position.
The law will not require you to take further steps in the form of writing to known trespassers, actually physically confronting them on your land or even the cost of legal action. You should always keep a record (including photographs) of the signage you have put up, especially if it is the subject of vandalism.
Boundaries are a key area to protect your land if people have walked over your land for many years, they will still fight against the loss of access, even if they have been walking by signs saying the land is private all that time. It’s important to remember that putting up signs does not mean that boundary fences can be forgotten. Maintaining them is the most important first line of defence, with signage second.