Rights of way - responsibilities
Landowners and the public alike have responsibilities. Find out more below.
Responsibilities on rights of way - landowners
Stiles and gates
- It is the responsibility of landowners to maintain stiles and gates in a safe condition. See our furniture page for more information
- North Yorkshire County Council (The Highway Authority) is legally required to provide at least 25 per cent towards the cost of maintaining stiles and gates.
- It is unlawful to install new gates or stiles on rights of way where they are not recorded on the definitive statement and without authorisation from the Highway Authority.
- An application can be made to authorise new gates or stiles for the control of stock under the Highways Act 1980 section 147. Contact your local ranger.
- The surface of a route is the responsibility of the Highway Authority. This primarily involves surfacing works and vegetation clearance.
- Vegetation growth from the sides and overhead is the responsibility of the landowner. On bridleways horse riders should be allowed 3 metres (10ft) of headroom.
- The surface of a route should be kept clear by the landowner from obstructions such as machinery, barbed wire, locked gates, rubbish etc. Potential dangers should also be marked such as cliff tops, slurry lagoons.
- It is an offence to keep any animal known to be aggressive in a field to which the public has access.
The following duties of landowners are set out under the Highways Act 1980
- Where possible the surface of a footpath or bridleway should not be disturbed by ploughing. When this is not possible you have 14 days from the first disturbance to re-instate the path to the suitable width.
- The re-instated surface should be firm and level and on a bridleway this may be harder to achieve.
- The path should be marked across the field, ideally with canes or stakes although well defined wheel marks can be ok.
- Once a crop has started to grow the path should be kept clear, this is often done by spraying or cutting the crop to the appropriate width.
- Paths along headlands or field edges cannot be lawfully ploughed or cultivated. The specified width is normally measured from edge of the hedge or fence where the ground is level.
- The Highway Authority is responsible for the maintenance of the surface of headland paths.
- The Highway Authority has a duty to ensure compliance with the law and has the power to enter land to clear routes and to recover the costs from landowners.
- The definitive statement sometimes records the widths of footpaths and bridleways but in the absence of this the Rights of Way Act 1990 sets out the widths as follows.
|Cross-field footpath ||1 metre|
|Field-edge footpath||1.5 metres- undisturbed|
|Cross-field bridleway||2 metres|
|Field-edge bridleway||3 metres - undisturbed|
|Cross-field byway open to all traffic||3 metres - undisturbed|
|Field-edge byway open to all traffic||5 metres - undisturbed|
You can download a copy of our leaflet Duties and responsibilities of landowners and farmers [2mb] [pdf] here , which has all this information in it.
Responsibilities when using rights of way - the Countryside Code
Be safe - plan ahead and follow signs
Leave gates and property as you find them
- When walking or riding in a group ensure the last person through the gate leaves it as it was found. Gate are usually left closed to contain stock but may be left open to allow access to water and food.
- Be careful not to disturb historic sites and ruins.
- Avoid climbing over fences and wall, use gates and stiles when provided.
- Try to alert the farmer if you find an animal in distress.
Protect plants and animals and take your litter home
- Do not leave litter, it is unsightly and can cause harm to wildlife.
- Do not disturb rocks, plants and trees as they provide cover for wildlife.
- Be careful not to start fires, they can easily become out of control and be devastating to wildlife.
Keep dogs under close control
- It is a legal requirement to keep dogs under control so that they do not scare or harm livestock or wildlife. A landowner is entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries animals.
- Many 'open access' areas have restrictions for dogs and often they must be kept on a short lead between 1st March and 31st July when nesting birds are breeding. More information can be found here.
- Cattle are often excited by dogs and may charge towards you, it is safer to let the dog go if this happens.
- Always clean up after your dog and ensure they are regularly wormed. Some infections can be fatal to livestock.
Consider other people
- Parking on quiet lanes can be difficult and can block access for farmers. It is worth sharing lifts and using public transport where possible.
- Cyclists must give way to other users on bridleways and should be aware that horses can spook easily. It can be worth asking the rider if it is safe to pass.
- Pass livestock slowly as sheep can abort if frightened.
- It is important to support the rural economy, there are some excellent local shops.