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FAQs about public rights of way

Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) on public rights of way in England and Wales. If your question isn't answered you might find the information you need in our Dos and Dont's of Public Rights of Ways. Otherwise, please follow the Related Links to other organisations which may be able to help (see box to the right).

Thanks to the Open Spaces Society who helped compile the FAQs. If you join the OSS you will receive free help and advice from the experts. As a small charity we don't have the resources ourselves to answer individual queries.

What animals can a landowner keep in a field with a public right of way across it?
  • Bulls of up to 10 months old are allowed.
  • Bulls over 10 months old - but not bulls from dairy breeds - are allowed provided they are accompanied by cows or heifers.
  • Otherwise, the landowner mustn’t put out an animal suspected to be dangerous.

If you do encounter a dangerous animal you should inform the landowner or your highways authority: ie the county council or unitary authority where you live (you can find contact details here).

The landowner should take responsibility for ensuring there can be no harm to the public (either by removing the animal or providing a barrier).

If a fence is provided the landowner should make sure that it doesn't encroach on the width of the path, and that if it's barbed wire people's coats can't get blown onto it (eg by allowing extra width).

How can I find out exactly where public footpaths are? Is there somewhere I can see a map of them?

Rights of way are shown in the 'definitive map' for each area. Contact your local highways authority for details of where to go to view the map. They may also have a copy available on-line.

The highways authority for an area is the county council or unitary authority (you can find contact details here).

Who do I complain to if the right of way I want to use is blocked? What if it’s blocked deliberately? And what if it’s overgrown?

You should complain to your local highways authority, which is the county council or unitary authority where you live. You can find contact details here.

If the path is blocked deliberately it’s a criminal offence under Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980. Offenders can face a fine and criminal record.

If it's overgrown from below it's the highway authority's responsibility. If it's overgrown from the sides it would be the responsibility of the adjoining landowner, but you should still complain to the highways authority.

Can I put a gate across a right or way, or part of it, even temporarily?

A recent case has clarified that you cannot put a gate across a public right of way, even across part of it, if that puts people off using it. The Barcroft Lane case was an important landmark judgement and you can read more about it here.

How wide does a path have to be?

This varies. Some rights of way have their width specified in the statement accompanying the local 'definitive map'. This is a map that shows all the rights of way in an area. Contact your local highways authority to find out where you can view the map. This will be the county council or unitary authority (you can find contact details here). Some authorities make the map available on-line.

In many cases the width will reflect past practice.

What should I do if there’s a plan to divert a public right of way and I disagree?

There are different things you can do depending what stage of the process has been reached.

Initially the landowner may consult on the proposal. If they do, you can let them know your views directly.

Later on, the highways authority will be the target for your concerns, ie the county council or unitary authority where you live (you can find contact details here). You should follow criteria for objecting in the relevant legislation (eg Section 119 of the Highways Act 1980, or in Town and Country Planning legislation).

The right of way by my house attracts crime and noisy people. What can I do about it?

Contact your local highways authority (the county council or unitary authority where you live: you can find contact details here).

They should make sure that public rights of way where these kind of issues might be encountered are well lit and welcoming (eg free of rubbish and not overgrown). There is provision for making a gating order under s129A of the Highways Act 1980 (Gating Orders) (England) Regulations 2006.

As a disabled person, gates, stiles and badly maintained tracks often prevent me from using footpaths. What are my rights?

Every provider of facilities and services has a duty to improve access for disabled people by making 'reasonable adjustments'. What counts as a 'reasonable adjustment' will vary from case to case. The aim is to remove, overcome or avoid obstacles without losing the character of the countryside's natural features. In some situations, it might be reasonable to remove a barrier, like a gate or a bridge. In others, where the barrier is necessary, it might be reasonable to adapt the gate or bridge to make it as accessible as possible for disabled people.

Contact your local highways authority (the county council or unitary authority in your area: you can find contact details here) to let them know about particular problems. They are encouraged to consult with disabled people in their area to decide what 'reasonable adjustments' might be.

More information about countryside access for disabled people is available here.

As a landowner, who pays for damage caused by people using a right of way on my land?

You should approach the highways authority, although whether they will help or not depends on the nature of the damage. The highways authority is the county council or unitary authority in your area (you can find contact details here). It has a statutory duty to maintain public rights of way.

A public footpath runs along the boundary line of my property. Am I able to fence along the side of the property, leaving the path unobstructed but maintaining our privacy? What are the rules?

Yes, you can put up a fence. But you can't put a structure across the path.

You should check the definitive map for the area to see whether it specifies the width of the public right of way. The definitive map shows all public rights of ways in the area. It is held by the highways authority, ie the relevant county council or unitary authority (you can find contact details here).

If the definitive map doesn't specify the width of the right of way, allow at least 2 metres (more if barbed wire).

You are responsible for some maintenance, but the highway authority may also be responsible. This will depend on the particular case.

I ride along a bridleway running parallel with a waterway. Adjacent residents have boats on shore with ropes across the bridleway tied to property walls which prevent use by horseriders. Is a rider entitled to untie or cut such a rope?

Yes, you can clear enough to pass and repass. But if you cause damage the boat people could allege criminal damage. Although your defence would be that the ropes were obstructing the highway, it would be best to seek advice first from your local highways authority. The highways authority is the county council or unitary authority in your area (you can find contact details here).

If I have access from my garden onto a public right of way in an adjoining field, does the landowner have the right to restrict my access onto the right of way?

This is probably a private matter. If there is no gap between the gate and the right of way, your right of access is probably protected. But if there’s a strip of land between the gate and the right of way the landowner could restrict your access.

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