Home > Rights > Public Rights of Way in England and Wales

Public Rights of Way in England and Wales

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 25 Oct 2016 | comments*Discuss
 
Footpath Right Of Way Access Public Land

A public right of way is a path, road or track that is open for use by anyone. They can be found in guide books, on ordinance survey maps and on local council websites. Rights of way are also often marked with a wooden sign post or with a coloured arrow.

There are a number of different types of rights of way:

  • Footpaths: Only allow travel by foot
  • Bridleways: Only allow travel by foot, horse or bicycle
  • Restricted Byways: Allow travel by any form of transport that does not have a motor
  • Public Byways: Allow use any form of transport, including cars

Be aware that dirt bikes have a motor and so are not allowed on restricted byways, footpaths or bridleways. Due to their noise, police have in recent times been particularly swift to clamp down on the unauthorised use of dirt bikes. For information about where you can ride a dirt bike, visit here.

Obligations of Land Owners

If you own or maintain land on which there is a public right of way, you are responsible for keeping it accessible and useable. This will generally include a duty to:
  • Not Obstruct the Right of Way
  • Ensure that any brambles / hedgerows etc are kept cut back to enable access
  • Ensure that any hazards (such as electric fences) are clearly marked as such and steps are taken to ensure that members of the public can still pass safely.

If you encounter a problem with a right of way being obstructed or impassable, you should report it to your local highway authority. If you are in woodland, you may also contact the Forestry Commission. If you are in a National Park, you can contact the National Park Authority.

Changing a Public Right of Way

Local Councils can alter routes, create new routes and even abolish routes. If you think that there should be a new route, or that a right of way should be changed or removed, you can apply to your local council at www.gov.uk/find-your-local-council

Local councils will generally consider the following:

  • Making a new route if there is a clear need (for example to link two villages when there is no other direct footpath between them and following the road would add a considerable distance for walkers).
  • Removing a route if it can be shown that this has a direct link to crime (for example if it is regularly used to provide access to the rear of properties for the commission of burglaries).
  • Change a route to go round the edge of a field rather than directly through it, as long as this does not create a large detour and would still be convenient for members of the public.

Open Access Land

Some land in England and Wales, you may use without having to follow pre-determined paths. This is often called the "right to roam". On this land, you can walk and rock climb. You may not however horse ride, cycle, camp or fish unless the land owner permits it. Open access is usually signed to show what you can/can't do there.

Some public land does not allow a "right to roam" and so you must use pre-determined paths / roads. This includes:

  • Land containing railways
  • Land that is used to grow food
  • Golf courses and race courses
  • Land that is less than 20m from a residential property or property housing livestock
  • Military land

If you are using public access land, you must:

  • Not commit any criminal offence including criminal damage
  • Not light a fire
  • Not kill or disturb animals, birds or fish
  • Between 1 March and 31 July, keep any dogs on a short lead of less than 2m, and also at any time when near livestock.
  • Leave any gates as you find them

The full Countryside Code can be found at www.ramblers.org.uk and is often signposted on all public access land.

Obligations on Land Owners

As detailed above, the owner of any public access land must make sure that the land remains accessible and safe for use by members of the public.

In particular, land owners must:

  • Maintain any stiles/gates
  • Cut back overgrowing vegetation
  • Not obstruct use of the land
  • Only use pesticides approved for use on a right of way/open access land
  • Not keep any dairy bulls over 10 months old in a field with a right of way / open access to the public

It is however also up to users to take care for their own safety; in particular do not go too near cliff edges and do not swim in lakes / rivers. Land owners do not have to rope off or signpost obvious risks.

Does length of use create a right of way?

If you use a road or path for access for a number of years, are you entitled to keep using it?

If you use a path for access for 20 years or more without the legal owner objecting, the long useage creates a legal right of way. This is often called an “easement by prescription”. Therefore if a pathway down the side of a house has been used as a thorough-fare by the public for over twenty years, it will likely now be a right of way and so should not be blocked.

The exception to this is if the use of the land, no matter how long for, was criminal. For example driving over someone else’s land can sometimes be a criminal offence as well as a civil trespass. This is because the law does not allow you to profit from your own criminality. Note that if the land owner gave you permission, this would not be a criminal act as you have “lawful authority” for the use.

Conversely if a designated right of way is not used for a period of 20 or more years, it does not cease to be a right of way. In England and Wales, a public right of way will exist indefinitely unless the path is destroyed (such as by erosion), or is closed by official order (for example if it is linked with crime).

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[Add a Comment]
Wert - Your Question:
We live in shared courtyard. We have used a 15ft walkway past our neighbors house for 14 years without issue. It is the only way to get a pram or wheelchair down from the house as we have Streep steps. Our son is visually impaired and finds steps difficult too. Our new neighbors have owned property for several years but have rented it out. They have just moved back and have forcefully blocked access to our son. The courtyard is shared and the walkways are designated to the building but I don't know how to find out if we have access over them. Are you able to advice. Many thanks

Our Response:
If you're home owners your title deeds should give you this information. If it's part of a shared development there's also a chance that there is a management company that looks after the maintenance of the communal areas. If so, they may have some information. If you are renting your property, your landlord should be able to tell you what your access rights are.
ProblemNeighbours - 26-Oct-16 @ 2:22 PM
We live in shared courtyard. We have used a 15ft walkway past our neighbors house for 14 years without issue. It is the only way to get a pram or wheelchair down from the house as we have Streep steps.Our son is visually impaired and finds steps difficult too.Our new neighbors have owned property for several years but have rented it out. They have just moved back and have forcefully blocked access to our son.The courtyard is shared and the walkways are designated to the building but I don't know how to find out if we have access over them.Are you able to advice. Many thanks
Wert - 25-Oct-16 @ 10:54 AM
I live in small village and in a square bit where you can't take your car aright to your house as there's no road just a path and I ride a motorbike so when no risk of me hitting anyone I ride up the drop curb about 10meters or so on to my (roughly 5mph) garden sometime on the the path I share with my neighbours and then some times cut the engine off and road threw the alleyway to my back garden.... next door is now complains that I do this to the council and to the police and recorded me doing so..... can I get done for this or am I allowed to do so to get access and store it in locked back garden also if I'm going out early or late I always push my bike and start it on road just to try not disturb the neighbours as on the other side is family's with kids.
MilkyBarKid - 16-Sep-16 @ 1:45 PM
Rayjack - Your Question:
I live in an urban development of 22 houses. When planning permission was granted to the developers about 28 years ago the council stated that a pedestrian way was to be maintained through the development in perpetuity. We have electrically operated vehicular and pedestrian gates. The pedestrian gates are locked every night from 6pm to 8am with the council's agreement. Is there any danger that a right of way could be claimed by prescription?

Our Response:
If the council stated that a pedestrian way was to be maintained in perpetuity surely that means that a right of way is already there?
ProblemNeighbours - 13-Sep-16 @ 2:33 PM
I live in an urban development of 22 houses. When planning permission was granted to the developers about 28 years ago the council stated that a pedestrian way was to be maintained through the development in perpetuity. We have electrically operated vehicular and pedestrian gates. The pedestrian gates are locked every night from 6pm to 8am with the council's agreement. Is there any danger that a right of way could be claimed by prescription?
Rayjack - 12-Sep-16 @ 8:35 AM
I live in a terraced block of flatswith a rear courtyard that i keep my motorbike in. Outside the courtyard gate is a public alleyway not wide enough for a carbut i can easilyride motorbike past the large industrial bins down there. At the end of the alley the property owner leavestheir car parked on theroad blocking access for me to get from the road into the alleyway. Pleasecould someone tell me if this person is allowed toblockaccess to the alley? And am I allowed to ride my motorbike to my rear courtyard?
Moush - 27-Aug-16 @ 5:49 PM
John M - Your Question:
I live in a property with a granted right of way through my neighbour's garden to my back door. It is described as an "Access Way" and a right to "pass and repass" on "foot only". In addition to this there is a covenant in place preventing anyone from obstructing the Access Way. Am I allowed to push my bicycle along the Access Way, and for that matter a pram or a wheelchair should the need arise?

Our Response:
This is probably fine as long as you do not leave the bike/pram/wheelchair in the access way.
ProblemNeighbours - 4-Aug-16 @ 10:35 AM
I live in a property with a granted right of way through my neighbour's garden to my back door. It is described as an "Access Way" and a right to "pass and repass" on "foot only". Inaddition to this there is a covenant in place preventing anyone from obstructing the Access Way. Am I allowed to push my bicycle along the Access Way, and for that matter a pram or a wheelchair should the need arise?
John M - 3-Aug-16 @ 12:30 AM
Bargaincatcher - Your Question:
We have a small area of woodland at the rear of our property along with other owners. Some of the woodland has just be sold ( you can't do anything with the woods as it's pretty rubbish and not worth developing on because of the hilly nature.We have walked this area for over 20 years as the previous owner had no issues. He has since died and someone has bought half of it.What are our rights? Can we still walk along the paths made over the many years of being walked by us and other people?

Our Response:
We're not 100% - was it used for access? Or simply for roaming/pleasure? If it was used for access for more than 20 years without the legal owner objecting, the long useage creates a legal right of way. Maybe check it with a legal professional specialising in property/land.
ProblemNeighbours - 16-May-16 @ 2:11 PM
We have a small area of woodland at the rear of our property along with other owners. Some of the woodland has just be sold ( you can't do anything with the woods as it's pretty rubbish and not worth developing on because of the hilly nature. We have walked this area for over 20 years as the previous owner had no issues. He has since died and someone has bought half of it. What are our rights? Can we still walk along the paths made over the many years of being walked by us and other people?
Bargaincatcher - 13-May-16 @ 2:04 PM
Hi. We've just bought a house with a short narrow path running alongside it leading to a small patch of scrub land. Path is approx 4 foot wide and 30 foot long. The path is overgrown with brambles and trees through the middle of it - it's clear the path hasn't been used for years. The previous owner advised that about 15 years ago the local council /police/ homewatch agreed to let the path overgrow and become unusable due to the amount of anti social behaviour (mini motor bikes/dog fouling /fly tipping etc ) There has been a new path created about 100 yards away which is maintained and well lit. The path is completely impassable and causing our fence to be ripped down due to the brambles and tree roots. We would like to go about purchasing this piece of unused land if we could ... could you please offer any advice? Many thanks.
littlelisaj - 7-Mar-16 @ 11:07 PM
Jojo - Your Question:
We have a track neighbouring our property in conveyance of properties on both sides of the track in 1909 it was deemed a public roadway and both properties were bounded by a public roadway this led to a windmill that had been used for over 30 years by the public, in 1925 the owner of both properties on either side conveyed the 'public roadway in so far as is legal ' to one of the properties as the windmill not in his ownership had become disused, was this ever legal? Even though now it is a shared driveway to 2 properties can it have been conveyed at any point it was easily in the public use age for over 40 years, does that make it absolute? And would that be able to be corrected now? I own the property to the north and a 3rd party has claimed and registered the right hand side via dubious conveyances but can it be a public road and was the 1925 conveyance in fact legal. I have 3 rights of way over up and down and to draw water but the registered owner want to claim the boundary and put an injunction preventing me going in his land in effect creating a ransome strip, would I still have right of way? Thank you

Our Response:
You should really seek the advice of a solicitor here as there look to be a lot of different factors involved. However, if a path or road has been used as a right of way by the public for over 40 years is likely that it will remain so under the easement by prescription ruling.
ProblemNeighbours - 7-Mar-16 @ 10:32 AM
We have a track neighbouring our property in conveyance of properties on both sides of the track in 1909 it was deemed a public roadway and both properties were bounded by a public roadway this led to a windmill that had been used for over 30 years by the public, in 1925 the owner of both properties on either side conveyed the 'public roadway in so far as is legal ' to one of the properties as the windmill not in his ownership had become disused, was this ever legal? Even though now it is a shared driveway to 2 properties can it have been conveyed at any point it was easily in the public use age for over 40 years, does that make it absolute? And would that be able to be corrected now? I own the property to the north and a 3rd party has claimed and registered the right hand side via dubious conveyances but can it be a public road and was the 1925 conveyance in fact legal. I have 3 rights of way over up and down and to draw water but the registered owner want to claim the boundary and put an injunction preventing me going in his land in effect creating a ransome strip, would I still have right of way? Thank you
Jojo - 4-Mar-16 @ 3:15 AM
We put double gates at the side of our house next to the gates is a brick up arch which used to be access to the field whlch is at the bittom of our garden ut the council are saying the gates are theres and we only have there permisision to use the gates if they saythis totaly untrue we built the gates 18 years ago and before we did there was a wooden gate there trying to move boundarylines be cause theoriginal entrance is smaller than our gateway there trying to claim our side garden we are coucil tenants watwrights do we have
Brenda Gillam - 12-Nov-15 @ 7:15 PM
Can my neighbours claim a prescriptive right of access onto our driveway as they say they have come on it to trim their hedge 2-3 times a year for 20 years?Unfortunately it is on our deeds as a purchased right of access since 1948 - the true owner has never been found and it has never been used for access by any other property. They say they now intend to put a gate in the hedge and use the drive and new gate to allow them easier access to their property. Your advice much appreciated
intimidated - 15-Aug-15 @ 1:35 PM
We live in a block of 18 properties, 9 are housing association and 9 are leashold/owned.On our deeds we have "full right and liberty" for purposes only of "access to and egress from" the flat as are coloured blue on our Plans.This is shown to be the full length of the rear of the building, and 3 communal entrances to the building.The problem we have is with another leasehold/owner who has a locked gate preventing access to a fire exit gate which he also keeps locked.He maintains that according to his lease this right of way does not exists across the rear of his flat ( our flats are ground floor ). He has now put his property on the market but we would like some advice and clarification before any sale.We are not in the position to pay for solicitors advice or indeed having a solicitor send him a letter.Any help would be gratefully received. Many thanks
peachy - 14-Aug-15 @ 6:49 PM
@Petephillips. Unfortunately the only way to resolve this would be to delve into the history of the property. The fact that you have been paying higher rents (and the previous tenant did too), might suggest that you have gained access via long usage but you will need to seek legal advice.
ProblemNeighbours - 17-Jul-15 @ 12:46 PM
@lexyloos. Is the land a path that has been classified at all? If it's public footpath, a bridleway or restricted byway a motorbike will not be allowed by law. It is also against the law to ride or drive on any land, moorland, forest, commons, country parks, waste ground.etc unless you have the express permission of the landholder.
ProblemNeighbours - 17-Jul-15 @ 12:38 PM
at the rear of my property is a garage hardstanding which was used by previous tenants to garage a car , the access to this is by a track behind houses my side of the road and those on the houses to the rear of this. Recently one of the neighbours at the rear has complained that there is no access allowed for my property to use the garage hardstanding, the actual garage was taken down and relocated by a previous tenant moving out. The local council owns my property and have no records of right of access even though a previous tenant was being charged an extra £6.per week for rent for this, I believe the council put the hardstanding in. My rent is still £6 per week higher than my neighbour of a exact house.The actual track is listed as an service road for those on the rear houses and most houses on my side of the other road. There is no signpost that states a private rdor any signpost at all. My neighbour has lived in his property (council) for over 60 years and can remember the lane being used by all houses. can anyone help as the council keeps getting complaints from one lady at the rear about my even walking out on this lane,
peter phillips - 14-Jul-15 @ 1:22 AM
We are being driven made by off road motorcycles speeding past our house. We live on a riverbank/canal bank. The land between us and the waters edge is owned by the Canals & Rivers Trust. I have read that a landowner has a legal obligation to take reasonable steps to prevent access onto their land by such vehicles. Despite 5 years of complaining to the Police and the Trust,the Trust have failed to do anything at all. Usually by the time the Police turn up the motorbikes have gone but, they have recorded our telephone calls and can clearly hear the offending motorbikes to the degree that the conversation has had to stop until the bikes have gone by so that we canspeak again and hear the other person speaking. We have exhausted all possible negotiations with the Trust and now need to quote legal obligations to them but I am unable to find the relevant legislation.Can you please help me quote the necessary laws/legislation in the hope that they will make some effort to alleviate the problems.
Lexyloos - 13-Jul-15 @ 10:37 PM
@Dee. You're going to have to approach him at some point of you need access. Check you deeds for details of the access and if necessary take a copy to show the neighbour. If that doesn't work, then unfortunately you may have to get a solicitor's letter. Incidentally you have a right of access to neighbouring property to carry out essential repairs under the Access to Neighbouring Land Act.
ProblemNeighbours - 12-May-15 @ 2:09 PM
We have a private access alleyway to the rear of our property for three properties, however our neighbour has put a locked gate there and uses it for his building storage.We need access to our guttering, what can we do??? he is an unapproachable man.
Dee - 7-May-15 @ 7:49 AM
@Gary. No they're no obliged to do more than they've offered.
ProblemNeighbours - 6-May-15 @ 2:02 PM
We have a public footpath at the bottom of our garden and have asked our council (as the house is council owned) to erect a fence to stop the various walkers from looking straight in our kitchen window. Are they obliged to erect fencing to give us some privacy? All they have said is they'll refit 3ft high wire fence "which will not require upkeep"
Gary - 29-Apr-15 @ 5:50 PM
@Sofedup. The police should at least have been interested in the criminal damage that's taken place. Have you spoken to your rights-of-way officer regarding the path? Public paths have to be kept accessible but are for passing through...not stopping on.
ProblemNeighbours - 1-Apr-15 @ 11:36 AM
@LU. Have you shown your title documentation to the council? What kind of rubbish is it? If it's a potential health hazard or may attract vermin then the Environmental Health Dept may be able to help. If it's a public way - rather than a private access, the rights-of-way officer at your council could also act. Other than that, legal action may be the solution. Many solicitors offer the first half consulation free of charge.
ProblemNeighbours - 1-Apr-15 @ 10:13 AM
We have a public path running through our yard between the stables and in front of our house. Nobody uses us as it was a field access until the farmers swapped fields. However our neighbours have launched a 3 year period of persecution against us after we objected to their planning application for a yurt campsite directly in front of us. We have been assaulted, had fireworks parties that have injured our horses, threats, intimidation, assaults, trolling and now they are using the footpath to video us and our property with an ipad and mobile phone. One stands at the gate and the other wanders up and down the yard videoing us and our property. Last time they claimed we had stolen their bin bags and were looking for them...it was bin day and I think the bin men were the real culprits! They are then using the images to create libellous YouTube videos. We have CCTV footage but the Police say they can not do anything but they seem to have very little knowledge of what responsibly using a footpath entails. Can you suggest what we can do...we are up the wall!
Sofedup - 29-Mar-15 @ 2:50 PM
Hello, my neighbour keeps a load of rubbish on the public way that runs across our back gardens. This pathway is 2.5 metres wide and apparently it was used in the past by the council to deliver coal to residents. The pathway starts on the left of my property and at one point goes left and right down the whole block of properties, dividing the gardens in two halves. My neighbour has already blocked the pathway that runs through his property with a caravan (to which he removed its wheels so he can claim that it impossible to move it), and he is using the piece of public way that runs through my garden to deposit scrap metal and other rubbish that he collects. The first bit of garden is fenced out, however the second part is unfenced on either side. On the ground there are broken pieces of bathroom ceramics, nails and broken glass, and, I can only access the rest of my property by climbing on the rubbish. I asked him if the rubbish could be removed, and my neighbour decided that the best course of action is to threaten me and to use abusive language towards me. I reported it to the council about 3 months ago, and since, they visited him twice but nothing has changed, the rubbish is still there. The council told me that they have to examine the ownership of the land before they can enforce anything on my neighbour. I have a title absolute on my property and in the title there are a few lines that mention this pathway. It is mentioned that I have a public right of way for that piece of land, and that I have to provide fencing for it. We moved in one year ago, and we thought that it will be our dream home. It is sad and disappointing that we have to deal with such a difficult character. Could you please advise on this matter? What should I do next? Many Thanks.
Lu - 28-Mar-15 @ 7:35 PM
@Sher. If your deeds say you have a right of access then that cannot be easily overturned without a court order. Visit your local citizen's advice bureau to see if they can help point you in the direction of some specialist legal advice (often the first consultation is free of charge).
ProblemNeighbours - 30-Jan-15 @ 1:03 PM
I buy my propetry 10 years on my deeds it have access to dwelling house no 38the previous owner of my house was english he lives their for 30 years didnt have a problem with right away he access it when he need to.as for me and my family we were told by the council not to access such right away afterusing it for 9 years . I am not english but british citizen . The council denied both my family and i the right to access the foot part although it is written on my deeds. But give his tennant the right to access also errect a gate and a fence which is 6.2 foot between both houses is this
sher - 28-Jan-15 @ 11:55 PM
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