Government ministers have recently consulted on police and council powers to deal with unauthorised traveller sites which can cause upset and inconvenience for both settled and travelling communities.
According to official figures 16% of caravans – around 3,700 – are located on unauthorised sites in England.
Research commissioned by the National Inclusion Health Board shows unauthorised encampments often have a negative impact, both on those living in them, in terms of access to healthcare and education, and on residents affected by related anti-social behaviour and fly tipping.
How to protect your private land
If trespassers are camped on council-owned land, the council can evict them, but if the encampment is on private land, it is usually the landowner’s responsibility.
“Don’t let unwelcome visitors be a barrier to business this summer. Illegal traveller encampments and other trespassers can give rise to anti-social behaviour, which may not only damage land but prevent landowners from carrying out their lawful business”, said Michael Knibbs, managing director, SafeSite Facilities.
“There are many types of barrier systems, designed with safety, security and stability in mind, that can help you protect your land. Timber fencing is affordable, strong and may be more aesthetically pleasing than metal alternatives. Close-board wooden fencing, which is available in heights up to three metres and typically used in gardens and fields to discourage trespassers, gives any plot a rural feel by virtue of being made of a natural material. Concrete barriers are another, immovable, solution that can be used in many situations and locations to block access and prevent trespass and intrusion. What’s more our concrete barriers can be customised to blend in with their natural surroundings and are available for hire or purchase depending on customers’ individual requirements. My advice: don’t delay, secure your land today”, Knibbs added.
It’s good to talk
If you do find unwelcome visitors on your land, the first thing to do is to talk to them to make it clear that they are trespassing on private land. Find out why they are there and how long they are hoping to stay. Assess if they are causing a disturbance. If the encampment has spread onto a right of way or highway, contact your local council to alert them. It’s also a good idea to inform your solicitor of the situation and to enquire about likely legal costs.
Where good relations are established early and there are no major problems, some landowners are happy to let small groups stay. Some welcome the contribution Gypsy and Traveller culture makes to local trade and community life – even if just for a short time. However, long-term occupation will require planning permission from the local council.
Reclaiming possession of your land
Your solicitor will most likely advise that possession be sought through the civil courts and this will involve asking trespassers to leave (the landowner’s responsibility), issuing and serving a court summons, seeking a possession order in court, serving the possession order, and, if necessary executing a warrant for possession with county court bailiffs.
Usually, once an order is served, Gypsies and Travellers will vacate independently. You can also engage private bailiffs to remove unauthorised occupiers without a possession order in some cases.
Can the police help me?
The police will visit all sites reported to them but trespass is a civil offence and not a criminal offence. The police have powers to move Gypsies or Travellers off land if they are engaging in criminal activity, in the same way that crime committed by settled people has to be proven.
The police also have discretionary powers to direct Travellers off land where group behaviour goes against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.
Find out more
There are a number of leaflets and publications available providing information about Gypsy and Traveller culture and lifestyle. The Travellers Times website is designed to be used by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and non-travellers alike to promote positive imagery and challenge stereotypes.