Public Rights and Responsibilities

Once a public right of way has come into existence it continues indefinitely and can only be brought to an end or amended by the use of statutory legal procedures for altering a Public Right of Way.  Section 56 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 makes it clear that the Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way is conclusive evidence as to what it contains. However, the Definitive Map is also without prejudice to any other public rights of way that may exist (for further information please see Definitive Map and Statement). Lack of use over a period of time does not mean that the rights have disappeared.

Accompaniments on Footpaths

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On a footpath you can take the following as they are considered a 'usual accompaniment' of a person on foot:

  • Dogs which must be kept under close control, preferably on a lead (please see Dogs on Public Rights of Way for further information);
  • Prams or pushchairs if it is practicable but please expect that there may be stiles and gates;
  • Wheelchairs are also permitted.

Bicycles should not be taken on a footpath as, in law, a bicycle is not considered to be a 'usual' accompaniment on a footpath.  To push (or carry) a bicycle is, therefore, to commit a trespass against the holder of the land over which the path runs without their prior consent.

Horses should not be ridden on a footpath without the prior consent of the landowner, otherwise you would be committing trespass against the landowner, or occupier concerned.

You can only drive a vehicle on a public byway. A person who drives a mechanically propelled vehicle over any private land, including public footpaths or bridleways on that land, commits trespass against the holder of the land unless they have private vehicular rights to use the right of way (will usually be shown on the property deeds).

In addition it is a criminal offence under Section 34 of the Road Traffic Act 1988 to drive a mechanically propelled vehicle without lawful authority over any footpath, bridleway or restricted byway.

The legal right to pass relates solely to the public right of way and you may only make a short deviation from the right of way in order to get around an illegal obstruction erected by the landholder. This right to deviate does not necessarily allow you to enter land owned by another person. Where a route fails to physically exist as a result of natural causes, for example, a path that has been eroded by a river or the sea, the right of passage fails to exist and a user does not have the right to deviate from the path. The right to continue depends upon the dedication of a new path by the landowner, by a Creation Order made by a highway authority or by a permissive path being opened by the landowner.

It is considered reasonable for a walker to carry and use a pair of pocket secateurs to cut back only that vegetation which impedes progress along a path providing that no more than necessary is done to enable you to make your way conveniently along the path.

If anything more than this is done, for example you go out with the express intention of clearing a particular path, equipped with tools such as a saw, spade or pick-axe, this risks going beyond what is necessary to enable convenient progress.