Why should I ask for permission?

The first ever night cache we placed took several weeks and many visits to a nearby plantation in the planning stages. We then had to research the best reflective materials to use, buy them, construct the final cache, fasten up the reflective markers and sign an exit route. It was found and enjoyed by just three cachers before we were told that the plantation had Phytophthora ramorum (larch dieback) and the trees would have to be felled. Had we not sought permission, we would not have been informed and we would have lost the lot. As it was, we were at least able to retrieve all the components and use them to place a similar cache in another location. We have subsequently heard that the diagnosis was erroneous and the trees could have remained – but that’s another story.

As we begin to fill in the online form, we have to accept that we have “already visited the location, obtained exact co-ordinates and received land manager permission”.

Whenever we create a listing, hoping to have our latest geocache published, we are confirming to Groundspeak that we have permission to place a container or take people to that spot. As we begin to fill in the online form, we have to accept that we have “already visited the location, obtained exact co-ordinates and received land manager permission”. And yes, strictly speaking this includes virtual stages of a multi and earthcaches, as we will likely be increasing footfall in the area.

It’s been estimated that only 17% of geocachers actually read a listing before they search for the cache. It may well be the case that only a similar percentage gain express permission before placing one, although as we all state we have done so, that would be difficult to prove. So why should we? It may be fairly obvious that certain locations are private property, sensitive, or otherwise not automatically accessible to the public, geocachers or otherwise. But what of public footpaths, lay-bys or even public parks? No-one has to seek permission before using these areas so why should placing a geocache require permission?

Well, all land is owned by someone. A public footpath or right of way is simply that, a right to travel across that land on our way from one place to another. It is not a right to place something there, whether that’s a seat, a house…..or a geocache. The land owner or land manager has certain legal obligations, such as keeping the path accessible, and legal rights too. In reality, it is unlikely that any land owner would find it worthwhile to take legal action against anyone placing a cache and even if they did, any outcome is unlikely to be punitive unless it can be proved to have caused substantial damage or loss.

But the Geocaching Association of Great Britain (GAGB) regularly receives enquiries and complaints from people who only become aware of a geocache on their land when an issue arises. This could be anything from seeing suspicious looking behaviour or finding a “suspicious” package, to concerns that local wildlife, pets or livestock are being disturbed or a vulnerable neighbour or children are being put at risk. In many of these cases, even if the concerns appear unfounded, the landowner will ask that the geocache is removed.

Most of these incidents could be avoided if the landowner had been contacted before the cache was placed. Had permission been sought, in many cases it would have been granted. Suspicion and unpleasantness could have been avoided and the geocache could have remained for us all to enjoy.

So how do we know whom to contact if we want to place a cache somewhere? There are Land Registries for each country in Britain and now also the Isle of Man, but it is unlikely to be a speedy process getting the information you need and then you will still have to contact the land owner or manager. It is generally better to make enquiries at a local level, for example by approaching the local council, highways or other department directly. This can often be done from the comfort of your own home via the magic of the internet and email. Or perhaps it’s the local vicar, farmer or sports or shopping centre manager you need to ask, in which case a personal approach may achieve the best results. Approaching or emailing a named person rather than a faceless department usually gets the most prompt and agreeable result. Or ask a neighbour who lives near the land – they’re likely to know.

It’s also worth checking whether there is a sign at the entrance to the area or in any car parking facilities. If so, it may carry the name of the land manager or relevant organisation and even have contact details.

But what if you don’t know who owns the land? Your local library or town hall may have the answers, too. Or this may also be where your reviewer or the GAGB can help – there are many land owner agreements already in place and they will have details of the person to contact and any conditions or restrictions that apply. In some areas there is even blanket permission so the negotiating has been done for you. Of course, there are also a few places that are total “no go” areas, but at least knowing that will save you wasted time and effort. And the agreements are being updated and expanded on a regular basis, although please bear in mind that your reviewer and the GAGB committee are all volunteers and have other demands on their time, so try to track down the owner yourself or use GLAD and the Landowner Agreements wiki before asking for help.

Once you have permission, give credit where it’s due. Promoting a business or charity on a cache page is not allowed, but it’s fine to add an acknowledgement such as “Placed with the kind permission of Farmer Jones”. If anyone decides to buy some of Farmer Jones’s eggs, that’s their choice – we can’t encourage it, though.

So always seek permission – and only place the cache if you receive permission. Otherwise, not only is it deceitful and downright bad manners, you are acting against the law, encouraging others to do so when they look for the cache and you will only have yourself to blame if it has to be removed and all your hard work and good intentions are archived along with the cache.

This article originally appeared in the GAGB’s Seeker magazine October 2016 and is reproduced with kind permission of the author.

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