Public Rights of Way

Public Rights of Way (PRoW) in are routes over which the public have a legal right to pass and repass. These include footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways, and byways open to all traffic. PRoWs are integral to the UK’s outdoor heritage, providing access to the countryside, connecting communities, and enabling the exploration of natural and historical landscapes.

Importance of Public Rights of Way

Designating paths as PRoWs serves multiple purposes:

  • Countryside Access: Ensures legal access to rural landscapes, promoting outdoor recreation and nature appreciation.
  • Historical Preservation: Many PRoWs follow ancient routes, maintaining historical travel and trade pathways.
  • Conservation: Supports biodiversity by linking different habitats and encouraging responsible wildlife engagement.
  • Community Wellbeing: Enhances quality of life through outdoor activities, supporting physical and mental health.

Your Rights and Responsibilities

While enjoying PRoWs, it’s crucial to respect the rights of landowners and other path users:

  • Adhere to the Path: Keep to the marked route to respect private land and agricultural activities.
  • Control Pets: Ensure dogs are under control, especially around livestock and wildlife.
  • Leave No Trace: Respect the environment by taking litter home and not damaging plants or wildlife.
  • Report Problems: Inform the local authority of any obstructions or issues to maintain path accessibility.

Public Rights of Way Location Map and List

Discover local PRoWs with our interactive map and detailed list, providing information on path types, accessibility, and user guidelines.

For further assistance, please contact our Public Rights of Way Officer.

Designation Process

The designation of a PRoW involves historical research, legal procedures, public consultation, and official confirmation, culminating in the path’s addition to the Definitive Map and Statement.

Presumed Rights of Way

In instances where a path has been traversed by the public for over 20 years without formal acknowledgement or legal designation, it may be referred to as a “presumed right of way”. This presumption arises from the long-standing, uninterrupted use by the public, suggesting an implicit right of way despite the absence of official documentation or legal status.

Under the Highways Act 1980 and related common law principles in the UK, if a route has been accessed “as of right” — openly, peaceably, and without explicit permission from the landowner — for a minimum of twenty years, it is possible that a de facto public right of way has been established over the land. To officially recognise and record these paths, a legal application must be submitted to the local council. The council may then carry out an investigation, which includes consulting the public, before potentially issuing a modification order to the Definitive Map and Statement, thereby formally recognising the route as a Public Right of Way.

This legal framework ensures that long-established routes used by the public can be protected and preserved for future generations, maintaining access to the countryside and upholding our rich heritage of public paths and trails.

Permissive Paths: Beyond the Right of Way

Permissive Paths are routes where landowners have granted permission for the public to use their land for walking, cycling, or horse riding, beyond statutory PRoWs. These paths do not carry legal rights but are made available through the goodwill of the landowner.

Features of Permissive Paths

  • Voluntary Agreement: Landowners allow access out of goodwill, without creating permanent public rights.
  • Temporary Nature: Access can be withdrawn by the landowner, typically with notice.
  • Diverse Usage: Often established to provide additional recreational routes or link existing PRoWs.

Using Permissive Paths Responsibly

  • Follow Guidelines: Adhere to any conditions set by the landowner, such as access times and permitted activities.
  • Respect Closures: Be prepared for temporary closures, often for land management reasons or wildlife protection.
  • Appreciate Access: Recognise and respect the landowner’s generosity in providing the path.

Permissive Paths enhance the network of accessible outdoor spaces, complementing the statutory PRoWs and contributing to the UK’s rich tapestry of countryside access.

Understanding Access: Rights of Way vs. Permissive Paths

FeatureRight of WayPermissive Path
Legal StatusLegally established paths with rights enshrined in law.Privately granted permission without legal rights; can be withdrawn at any time.
DurationPermanent unless legally extinguished.Temporary; duration is at the landowner’s discretion.
Public AccessGuaranteed access for walking, and possibly cycling, horse riding, or vehicle use, depending on the classification.Access is granted by the landowner and may be subject to conditions such as permitted times or activities.
ResponsibilityMaintenance is often the responsibility of the local authority.Maintenance and management are the landowner’s responsibility, although they might not undertake any.
RightsUsers have specific rights depending on the type of Right of Way (e.g., footpath, bridleway).Users must adhere to any conditions set by the landowner and have no rights beyond those permissions.
ObstructionsObstructions are illegal, and local authorities have a duty to keep paths clear.Landowners can close or restrict access at their discretion, subject to any agreements made.
MappingRecorded on the Definitive Map and Statement, providing legal protection.Not typically recorded on the Definitive Map and may not be marked on maps at all.
EstablishmentCan be established through long-term use, legal order, or dedication by the landowner.Established through the landowner’s decision to allow access; no formal process is required.