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

Public Rights of Way in England and Wales

By: Abigail Taylor - Updated: 21 Aug 2018 | 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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I live in a mid terraced housing association house, and have a gate with car spaces (for residents only) and continuously have cars parked there,so if I wanted to take the bins out or hire a skip, I can't because they are blocking access to my garden. The last person to park there is a friend of my daughter's and I said he could park it there temporarily, but when I told him to move it because I need the space for skip hire, he's been ignoring me.
Craftyclaws - 21-Aug-18 @ 9:01 PM
Dreamcatch - Your Question:
Hi, I've bought a land and intend to develop. However, in Land Registry Search that shows to be a public right of way over this land which is used by local walkers on regular basis. What do you advise on it and the impact on development?

Our Response:
If you gain planning permission to development the land, the right of way would have to remain. Occasionally a right of way can be diverted slightly but applying for a diversion is a complex and drawn out process, contact your local council to find out more about how to do this.
ProblemNeighbours - 23-Jul-18 @ 12:52 PM
Hi, I've bought a land and intend to develop. However, in Land Registry Search that shows to be a public right of way over this land which is used by local walkers on regular basis. What do you advise on it and the impact on development?
Dreamcatch - 19-Jul-18 @ 9:38 PM
benny - Your Question:
At the front of our house there is a small grass area council owned we put planted around the edges to smarten it up. our neibour on the left's rear garden runs next to this grass area. they have an access gate on the opposite side fence. they came round the other day to paint the fence and resulted in painting our wall window sill slabs on floor and plants growing near the fence. on complaining to them they have said they are going to replace the fence and put an access gate in it. are they allowed to put a gate in even though they already have access. we are looking into buying this land ourselves was we have maintained it for some time

Our Response:
You should ask the council about this if they own the land.
ProblemNeighbours - 13-Jun-18 @ 3:21 PM
at the front of our house there is a small grass area council owned we put planted around the edges to smarten it up. our neibour on the left's rear garden runs next to this grass area. they have an access gate on the opposite side fence. they came round the other day to paint the fence and resulted in painting our wall window sill slabs on floor and plants growing near the fence. on complaining to them they have said they are going to replace the fence and put an access gate in it. are they allowed to put a gate in even though they already have access. we are looking into buying this land ourselves was we have maintained it for some time
benny - 10-Jun-18 @ 8:59 AM
Confused - Your Question:
We live in a row of three cottages. We are the furthest from the lane. We have the right to pass and re pass over the neighbours land for all purposes. When the neighbour was purchasing the property they cane to us and stated that the right of way was not used as it should be on the title plan. They were given £500 by the previous owners the rectify this. They then asked us if the r.o.w could be officially moved to the prescriptive right of way that we can prove has been used for over 20 years. Then 1 year later they change their minds and say we have only walking access as shown in the original docs and now block our access 24-7. Now they have changed their minds again and say we have no access. The reason the original access was moved to the prescriptive access as their house had an extension built in 1978 that blocked the original r.o.w. Our house was extended quite sometime after theirs and after the r.o.w was changed but not officially. Where do I stand?

Our Response:
The right of access will remain. You will need to seek redress via the courts if you can't agree with the owner.
ProblemNeighbours - 4-Jun-18 @ 2:56 PM
We live in a row of three cottages. We are the furthest from the lane. We have the right to pass and re pass over the neighbours land for all purposes. When the neighbour was purchasing the property they cane to us and stated that the right of way was not used as it should be on the title plan. They were given £500 by the previous owners the rectify this. They then asked us if the r.o.w could be officially moved to the prescriptive right of way that we can prove has been used for over 20 years. Then 1 year later they change their minds and say we have only walking access as shown in the original docs and now block our access 24-7. Now they have changed their minds again and say we have no access. The reason the original access was moved to the prescriptive access as their house had an extension built in 1978 that blocked the original r.o.w. Our house was extended quite sometime after theirs and after the r.o.w was changed but not officially. Where do I stand?
Confused - 3-Jun-18 @ 10:39 PM
Julesandal - Your Question:
Hi. Thanks for the response. They had planning permission to build the stables and tack room to rehouse their own horses. Ive struggled to find anything about running a business i.e. the riding school from there. They also have another business that they run which does day trips to the farm. Again seems impossible to find out if they should have or do have permission. The traffic has recently caused one of my neighbours walls to fall down as the weight and size of traffic is too much for the lane. Any advice appreciated. Thanks

Our Response:
Talk to your planning officer - they might give you some advice on this. Also your council will have a "rights of way" officer who should be able to look into the history of the path etc.
ProblemNeighbours - 21-May-18 @ 12:35 PM
Hi. Thanks for the response.They had planning permission to build the stables and tack room to rehouse their own horses.Ive struggled to find anything about running a business i.e. the riding school from there.They also have another business that they run which does day trips to the farm.Again seems impossible to find out if they should have or do have permission. The traffic has recently caused one of my neighbours walls to fall down as the weight and size of traffic is too much for the lane. Any advice appreciated.Thanks
Julesandal - 19-May-18 @ 11:17 PM
Julesandal - Your Question:
I live in a property built in the 1700s and there is a further farm property down my lane. The farm has no land that it needs to use my land to access, but they would be land locked to the main road if they couldnt get through. Nothing on deeds, so I assume they have a easement by presciption down the foothpath (wide enough for a vehicle) through my yard. In the last few months they have opened a riding school and have started walking their animals and clients down the lane as a liitle tour. At the end of my land is a bridleway. Are they allowed to go over my land (where animals have not crossed for the last 20 year)? What I am also concerned about is that if they continue to do so for 20 years does that mean the footpath through my land can be upgraded to a bridleway? thanks

Our Response:
Did the neighours get planning permission for the riding school? If so access would have been looked at, so talk to your planning officer and see what was considered. As for the easement by prescription, it might be worth talking to a solicitor to see whether/how vehicle use affects it etc.
ProblemNeighbours - 16-May-18 @ 11:07 AM
I live in a property built in the 1700s and there is a further farm property down my lane.The farm has no land that it needs to use my land to access, but they would be land locked to the main road if they couldnt get through.Nothing on deeds, so i assume they have a easement by presciption down the foothpath (wide enough for a vehicle) through my yard.In the last few months they have opened a riding school and have started walking their animals and clients down the lane as a liitle tour.At the end of my land is a bridleway.Are they allowed to go over my land (where animals have not crossed for the last 20 year)?What I am also concerned about is that if they continue to do so for 20 years does that mean the footpath through my land can be upgraded to a bridleway?thanks
Julesandal - 14-May-18 @ 6:03 PM
Covsh - Your Question:
Small field at rear of properties, access has been blocked by householders who land back onto the land. This land is public land and comes under park and recreation. How do residents of the area stand regarding accessing this land? It is an ideal place for a community area yet the community don’t have access.

Our Response:
If this is public land talk to you local council's parks and recreation department and tell them you can't access the land.
ProblemNeighbours - 14-May-18 @ 2:06 PM
Small field at rear of properties, access has been blocked by householders who land back onto the land. This land is public land and comes under park and recreation. How do residents of the area stand regarding accessing this land? It is an ideal place for a community area yet the community don’t have access.
Covsh - 14-May-18 @ 9:48 AM
Lee - Your Question:
Near my house there is a public footpath with trees growing at the side. Next to the footpath there is a farmers field but there is a fence between the footpath and the field. Am I allowed to climb these trees, as long as I climb the ones growing on the footpath side of the fence?

Our Response:
Even though it's a public footpath/right of way that doesn't mean the land ownher will permit tree climbing. The farmer may in fact be the owner of the land on the footpath. Try and find out who owns the land and ask their permission.
ProblemNeighbours - 11-May-18 @ 3:40 PM
Near my house there is a public footpath with trees growing at the side. Next to the footpath there is a farmers field but there is a fence between the footpath and the field. Am I allowed to climb these trees, as long as I climb the ones growing on the footpath side of the fence?
Lee - 10-May-18 @ 2:36 PM
Can a neighbour from another street use our street for acess to all the jobs on his house
Taylor - 13-Mar-18 @ 9:24 PM
Mand - Your Question:
Please could you help advise on a situation regarding my rear neighbors. We have recently built a bungalow. Opposite our bungalow is a road approx 4 meters to allow access to our bungalow and another two existing bungalows. Right opposite on the other side of this road is an older dwelling that has a right of way footpath running alongside there building. We use this path way to walk our dogs from time to time. We arrived home from work the other day to find that they have blocked off the pathway with a six foot gate to match in with their six foot fencing and even put the number of their house on the gate ???? This public footpath runs all the way through a housing estate. Am I right in thinking that this is lawful? Do they have the right to do that? A small garden wall ran alongside their garden and the public footpath. They have subsequently knocked this wall down! Creating the illusion of their garden come strip of footpath. Hope this makes sense? Your view to this would be very much appreciated. Regards

Our Response:
Check with your local (county) council. There will usually be a Right of Way officer, possibly linked to the highways department. Write and inform them about this action, the officer should be able to do take the necessary action.
ProblemNeighbours - 29-Jan-18 @ 12:39 PM
Please could you help advise on a situation regarding my rear neighbors. We have recently built a bungalow. Opposite our bungalow is a road approx 4 meters to allow access to our bungalow and another two existing bungalows. Right opposite on the other side of this road is an older dwelling that has a right of way footpath running alongside there building. We use this path way to walk our dogs from time to time. We arrived home from work the other day to find that they have blocked off the pathway with a six foot gate to match in with their six foot fencing and even put the number of their house on the gate ???? This public footpath runs all the way through a housing estate. Am I right in thinking that this is lawful? Do they have the right to do that? A small garden wall ran alongside their garden and the public footpath. They have subsequently knocked this wall down! Creating the illusion of their garden come strip of footpath. Hope this makes sense? Your view to this would be very much appreciated. Regards
Mand - 26-Jan-18 @ 10:19 PM
Hi, although there is nothing on my deeds (just the standard 'any rights of way') but no easements or covenents, it would seem that my neighbours have a right of access to go across my garden to take their bins out and this has been going on for a few years. There is an alleyway on my property and owned by me but also another alleyway on their side (semi detatched, but this is owned by the property next to theirs and blocked by a 4ft wall. I was told before buying that a gateway was to be put in that wall. I have 2 gates on my alleyway which were originally kept unlocked but on advice of the police, I had simple bolts fitted to protect my property and which I unbolt on bin day. There is a gate separating the garden (owned by me, which they have a bolt on their side) Their property is now rented out and will be on the 2nd set of tenants in the new year, the gateway has never been created and their current tenants have been a complete nightmare, staring into my property, taking bins out early hours and waking my household etc.They make me feel violated and unsafe in my own home and garden. The owners have now written to me stating their intention to remove the bolts off my gates and replace with their own locks, to which I and any of their tenants will have a key. The issue I have is that I have my very young grandchildren here most weekends, I need to know who is accessing my garden and when and keep my family safe. I also believe that if they remove my bolts and replace with theirs, without my permission, is this is criminal damage?
Tony - 18-Dec-17 @ 3:59 PM
Jo - Your Question:
I have just moved into a council house, since moving in I have found there is a public footpath through my garden, everyone has a back gate so no need to use my garden, I've just had a dispute with a window cleaner walking through, I find this so dangerous, I now can't let my kid play out side or let my dog out on his own, what can I do I'm so worried

Our Response:
Could you ask your council if you can put up a fence across the end to make a closed off path for people to walk through in order to access their back gates etc?
ProblemNeighbours - 5-May-17 @ 10:41 AM
I have just moved into a council house, since moving in I have found there is a public footpath through my garden, everyone has a back gate so no need to use my garden, I've just had a dispute with a window cleaner walking through, I find this so dangerous, I now can't let my kid play out side or let my dog out on his own, what can I do I'm so worried
Jo - 4-May-17 @ 12:14 PM
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
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