Ploughing and Cropping on Public Rights of Way

The Law for Farmers (The Rights of Way Act 1990) Ploughing and Cultivating 

You must not plough or disturb the surface of:

  • Cross-field footpaths and bridleways that you can conveniently avoid; 
  • Footpaths or bridleways at the edge of the field and;
  • Byways open to all traffic.

Image showing a good example of a ploughed field of which the headland path has been kept clear for walkers.

The photo shows a good example of a ploughed field of which the headland path has been kept clear for walkers.

You may plough or disturb the surface of a footpath or bridleway that crosses a field if it is not convenient to avoid it when sowing or cultivating a crop. But you must then make sure that:

  • The surface is made good, to at least the minimum width, so that it is reasonably convenient to use and;
  • The line is apparent on the ground, to at least the minimum width, to anyone using it.

Image showing a ploughed field where the headland path has not been re-instated.

This must be done within:

  • 14 days of the first disturbance for that crop and;
  • 24 hours of any second or subsequent disturbance, unless a longer period has first been agreed, in writing, by the Highway Authority.

You may also disturb a footpath or bridleway during an excavation or engineering operation, but only if you first get written permission from the Highway Authority.

The photo shows a ploughed field where the headland path has not been re-instated.

Crops

You must not allow crops, other than grass, to grow on or overhang the minimum width of any footpath, bridleway or byway, so as to in-convenience the public or prevent the line of the Right of Way from being apparent on the ground.

Minimum/Maximum widths

If the width of a path is recorded on the Definitive Statement, then that is the minimum width.  If the width is not recorded then 'minimum/maximum' width means:

  • For a footpath, a minimum of 1 metre across the field and 1.5 metres on the field edge (1.8 metres maximum);
  • For a bridleway, a minimum of 2 metres across the field, 3 metres on the field edge (3 metres maximum);
  • For a byway, a minimum of 3 metres across the field, 3 metres on the field edge (5 metres maximum).

Image showing example of crops where the line of the path has not been left clear or re-instated

These widths apply only to the law on ploughing and cultivation. They are the minimum you must comply with if you are to avoid action being taken against you. They do not affect other aspects of the law on public paths and do not limit the public's established rights of passage in any way.

The image (right) shows an example of a field that has been cropped and the line of path has not been left clear. This will be classed as an obstruction.

Keep within the Law

The Highway Authority will take action against you if you fail to do so. It can:

  • Prosecute you and/or;
  • Enter onto your land, carry out the works it thinks are necessary (sometimes to a wider 'maximum width') and recover the costs from you.

Photo of a field of maize where the line of the path has been kept clear

Any person can bring a prosecution against you if you fail to keep a footpath, bridleway or other right of way clear of crops.

The image (left) shows a good example of a field of maize where the line of the path which crosses the field has been cleared of crops.

For further information please see Public Rights of Way Reinstatement After Cultivation Guidance Notes for Landowners and Users.

If you are the occupier it is your responsibility to comply with the law regardless of who carried out the work for you.

To report a problem, such as ploughing and cropping obstructions, please use the link below:

Report a public right of way issue