Outdoor access and recreation – guidance

Public rights of way: landowner responsibilities

As the owner or occupier of land with a PROW across it, you must keep the route visible and not obstruct or endanger users.

These rules apply to agricultural or any other land.

Find out if there’s a PROW on your land

Your local authority (national park authorities, county councils, some district councils, metropolitan boroughs or unitary authorities) will normally have a ‘definitive map’ of your area showing public rights of way (PROWs). Definitive maps are a legal record of the PROWs in 4 categories:

  • footpaths
  • bridleways
  • restricted byways
  • byways open to all traffic

Keep PROWs clear of obstructions

As the owner or occupier of land with a PROW across it, you must:

  • avoid putting obstructions on or across the route, such as permanent or temporary fences, walls hedgerows, padlocked gates or barbed wire
  • make sure vegetation does not encroach onto the route from the sides or above, bearing in mind the different clearances needed for users of different types of route, for example by horse riders.

Obstructing a PROW is a criminal offence. Highway authorities have the right to demand that any obstruction you cause be removed. If you don’t they can remove the obstruction and recover the costs from you.

Field-edge and cross-field paths

Byways, restricted byways and unsurfaced public roads must not be cultivated (ploughed). The same applies to footpaths or bridleways that follow a field edge. If you need to cultivate a cross-field footpath or bridleway, you must make sure that the path:

  • remains apparent on the ground, to at least the minimum width, and not obstructed by crops
  • is made good to at least the minimum width, so that it is reasonably convenient to use, within 14 days of first being cultivated for that crop, or within 24 hours of any subsequent cultivation (unless a longer period has been agreed in advance in writing by the highway authority)

Minimum width of PROW

Unless stated in the definitive statement held by the local authority, the minimum width you need to keep clear by law is as follows:

  • 1.5 metres for a field edge footpath, or 1 metre for any other footpath
  • 3 metres for a field edge bridleway, or 2 metres for any other bridleway
  • 3 metres for any other type of PROW across your land

Waymarking and warning signs

If any official waymarking leaves it unclear at a particular place where the PROW goes, you may add informal waymarks to remedy this, so long as these are not misleading. You must indicate the route of a reinstated cross-field footpath or bridleway.

If necessary, use signs to warn users of any dangers that are not obvious, such as slurry lagoons. Note that erecting misleading signs (such as signs about absent bulls) is an offence and local authorities have powers to remove them. See Waymarking public rights of way for more details.

Structures for access

Where a stile or gate on a PROW is your responsibility, you must maintain it so it is safe and reasonably easy to use.

You can claim 25% or sometimes more of the cost of any replacement works from the highway authority. Some authorities provide materials, or others may carry out the work themselves

Where a stile needs replacing, always consider with the highway authority whether to do this with a gate or preferably a gap, so that it will be less of an impediment to people with mobility problems.

If you add new ditches or widen existing ones (having secured any necessary permissions, including from the highway authority), you must provide adequate bridges for PROW users.

Requirements under Cross Compliance: GAEC 7b

Observing the above 4 requirements will mean you are covered for standard 7b of good agricultural and environmental conditions (GAECs).

Livestock on land crossed by a PROW: banned animals

Bulls of recognised dairy breeds that are over the age of 10 months are banned by law from fields containing a PROW. Bulls over 10 months of any other breed must be accompanied by cows or heifers when in fields with public access.

The recognised banned breeds are: Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry.

Make sure that any warning notices relating to a bull are displayed only when it is actually present in a field.

Horses may be kept loose in fields crossed by PROWs, as long as they are not known to be dangerous. You can be prosecuted if you keep any potentially dangerous animal on land crossed by a PROW.

Spraying on PROW land

If you have to spray land crossed by a PROW, use pesticides approved for such use and follow the product instructions. Where a PROW crosses or runs alongside a field, you can provide an informal alternative route that they can use for this period if you wish, but this does not close the PROW. If the public are still using the PROW, despite warning notices, you must stop spraying temporarily.

Creating, closing, upgrading, downgrading or re-routing PROWs

Highway authorities have certain powers to make changes to the PROW networks in their area. You can agree to create a new PROW or apply to your local authority to make an order extinguishing, diverting, upgrading or downgrading a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway in some circumstances. You can get more information from the rights of way section of the highway authority.

Problems with PROWs

If you experience a problem with a PROW you need to contact the rights of way section of the highway authority through whose area the route passes.

If you do not agree with a decision reached by the authority, you may have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State.