Not very sporting

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Most of us are aware that our land might be subject to other people’s rights over it. For example, it is very common for a householder to have the right to enter their neighbour’s land to repair and maintain sewers or cables or have access rights over their neighbour’s lane to reach their property. These rights are usually known as easements. But can a neighbour ever have the right to come on to your land to carry out country sports, such as hunting, shooting or fishing?

Sporting rights exist where a landowner sells off part of his land, but reserves the right to come on to the sold off land in order to exercise sporting rights. In practice, it is the shooting rights which are usually the most valuable. When purchasing a property, it is of course important to check for all rights to which the land may be subject – and this includes sporting rights. Technically, sporting rights are not an easement but a profit a prendre (that is, a right to take).

If they are properly registered against your title, then they are very likely to be enforceable (although sporting rights can be enforceable even in the absence of registration, as overriding interests).

Disputes usually arise where the owner of the land subject to sporting rights changes the use of the land, resulting in the holder of the sporting rights complaining that this has interfered with his rights. Previous cases have involved the construction of a housing estate or equestrian facilities, the removal of woodland and significant changes in how the land is farmed. In these circumstances, what action can the holder of the sporting rights take?

Sporting Rights over neighbour’s LandA claim will only arise if the interference is more than trivial. If there is a significant interference, the holder of the sporting rights will usually be entitled to damages and the award of his legal costs. But can the holder of the sporting rights obtain an injunction to prevent the other landowner from changing the use of the land? He can, if the interference is substantial. If you are proposing to radically change the use of your land – for example, building a housing estate – then the probability is that the holder of the sporting rights would be entitled to an injunction.

In other cases, it will be harder to say. If, for example, you are planning to change the use of your farm from growing crops and instead use it for forestry, then that might be treated as a “substantial” interference, persuading the court to grant an injunction. Each case, however, has to be decided on its own facts. Generally, courts are reluctant to grant injunctions and will only do so if change of use really has a substantial adverse impact.

If, therefore, you are subject to sporting rights, you should certainly consider carefully whether any change of use is likely to interfere with your neighbour’s sporting rights. It would be sensible to discuss it with him before going ahead, in order to avoid the risk of very expensive litigation.

If you would like more information about topics discussed above, please contact Michael McNally 01732 375396 or email m.mcnally@warners.law

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