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Public Rights of Way

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We've compiled some frequently asked questions (FAQs page) on public rights of way in England and Wales. If your question isn't answered please follow the links to other organisations which may be able to help. As a small charity we don't have the resources to answer individual queries.

The laws in England and Wales provide you with the right to walk, ride, cycle and drive in public rights of way in the countryside. Public rights of way include footpaths, byways and bridleways. Public rights of way are listed and described in Definitive Maps and Statements (legal records of public rights of way). Check your local authority's office or local library for a copy of the Definitive map and statement for your area.

In Scotland, everyone has the right to be on most land and inland water so long as they act responsibly and in a manner as set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

Dos and Don'ts of Public Rights of Way

Dos

Footpaths
This public right of way is meant for pedestrians only. You are allowed to walk your dog as long as it is under your close control. When walking a dog, you must ensure that it keeps to the public footpath and does not trespass into nearby properties. Prams, pushchair or wheelchairs can also be used on a footpath.
Bridleways
These are meant for walkers, horseriders and bycyclists. Bicyclists are expected to give way to walkers and horseriders.
Byways Open To All Traffic (BOAT)
These byways are normally marked "byways" and are open to motorists, bicyclists, horseriders, motorcyclists and pedestrians. As with public tarmac road networks, motorists must ensure that they are legally authorised to use BOATs (i.e. registered, taxed, insured and MoT’d).
Restricted Byways
Restricted Byways are created under the Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006. They are open to the traffic mentioned above in BOATs, but exclude motor vehicles and motorcycles.

Don'ts

Footpaths
Footpaths on edge of a field must not be ploughed. Footpaths can be ploughed, if they cross fields. However, a minimum width of 1 metres must be made available within 14 days of ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore footpaths after ploughing.
If you are walking a dog, you must make sure that it does not stray off legal lines of a public footpath as this may constitute an act of trepass. Also ensure that you clean up your dog mess, if your dog fouls up on a footpath.
Bridleways
Bridleways on the edge of a field must also not be ploughed except they cross overfields. Like footpaths, landowners must also give a minimum widthof 2 metres within 14 days of commencing ploughing. Landowners must also ensure that they restore bridleways after ploughing. Motor cars, mini motorsand motorcyclists are not allowed on bridleways.
Byways Open To All Traffic (BOAT)
Under-age or banned drivers, quad bikes,mini-motos, non-road-legal scramblers & quad bikes are not allowed on BOATs. BOATs must not be ploughed or obstructed to prevent public use.
Restricted Byways
Motorcyclists, motorists in motorcars, mini motors, quad bikes, non-road legal scramblers are not allowed on restricted by ways. Restricted byways must also not be ploughed or obstructed to prevent public use.

Other don'ts for landowners

  • You cannot grow crops on a public right of way, however grass can be grown for hay and silage.
  • Dairy bulls over 10 months are not allowed to cross over a field with a right of way.
  • You cannot put up stiles or gates without the permission of your local authority.
  • You cannot put up misleading signs to prevent people from using a public right of way.
  • You are not allowed to harrass, intimidate (e.g. placing a fierce dog on public right of way) or prevent members of the public from using a public right of way.
  • It is an offence under the Highways Act 1980 to put up barbed wires, electric fences or exposed barb wire that prevents or obstructs a public right of way.

Other don'ts for users of public rights of way.

  • You are not allowed to disturb or harm any wildlife found on a public right of way.
  • You should not drop or leave litter on a public right of way.
  • You should not trepass on neighbouring lands to public rights of way. At all times keep to the legal limits!

To find out more about how to behave in the countryside, please make reference to the Countryside Code for England and Wales.

Legislation

Highway Act 1980

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000

Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006

Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

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