Rights of way maintenance

Information about who looks after public rights of way and how to report any issues.

Responsibilities

Landowners, the County Council and the public each have responsibilities for rights of way.  We've produced a leaflet that provides an overview of the duties and responsibilities of landowners and farmers (pdf / 2 MB). The public can do their part by following the Countryside Code, closing gates, protecting plants and animals and taking litter home.

Maintenance

Among our responsibilities are protecting the rights of way network, making sure paths are free from obstructions and that the furniture is easy to use and in good condition. Outside the national parks, maintenance of rights of way is taken care of by our countryside access officers, area rangers and a team of countryside volunteers. This is some of the work our maintenance team does:

  • Repair broken stiles and gates;
  • Install signposts and waymark paths;
  • Liaise with landowners to resolve problems;
  • Check obstructions and survey paths;
  • Survey and maintain long-distance and promoted routes; and
  • Supervise volunteers and contractors.

Volunteers help our rangers to look after rights of way. There are regular tasks in most of the ranger team areas. For more information, see our volunteering opportunities page.

Further information

If you come across issues affecting rights of way, complete the  reporting path maintenance form (docx / 70 KB) and return it to us.

If you have any queries or issues with paths in the national parks please contact the rights of way teams in the relevant national park authority.

Dogs are allowed on public rights of way, but must be kept under close control. Intimidating dogs should be reported to us and the police. Problems with dog fouling should be reported to your district or borough council.

It is normal to meet livestock when out in the countryside using the public rights of way network.  Adult beef bulls may be kept in fields crossed by public rights of way, as long as they are with cows or heifers. Dairy bulls (even if accompanied by cows or heifers) should never be kept on land crossed by a public right of way. Where you experience a problem, please let us know.

Cattle attacks are relatively rare. Follow these simple principles to reduce the risk:

  • Always walk around cows with calves. Walking between them can be seen as a threat;
  • If they approach, walk slowly and if you have a dog ensure it is at heel;
  • If you feel threatened, let go of your dog. It can run faster than cattle and escape; and
  • If in doubt, do not enter the field.

Farmers are entitled to plough public rights of way if it is not reasonably convenient to avoid them. This only applies to cross-field footpaths and bridleways.

The landowner is responsible for ensuring that a hedge does not overhang and obstruct a public right of way. If a right of way is obstructed by a fallen tree or large branch, responsibility for its removal lies with the tree owner. We are responsible for ensuring that vegetation on the surface of a right of way is kept under control and does not make the route difficult to use. Overgrowth of plants and shrubs alongside the path is the responsibility of the landowner.

We, as the highway authority, are responsible for the surface of all public rights of way - the landowner's interest only extends to the sub soil. If you need to dig up the surface to lay pipes or drains, for example, you should contact us first.

 Landowners may find this leaflet about their duties and responsibilities useful (pdf / 2 MB).

It is the landowner's duty to ensure that stiles and gates are in good repair. Anyone wanting to install additional gates or stiles on footpaths or bridleways must apply to us in writing. A padlocked gate on a public right of way constitutes an obstruction; we have the right to remove it without consultation if the issue cannot be resolved.

Responsibility for bridges and culverts is shared between us and the landowner, and we are responsible for most footbridges. The rail authority is responsible for most footbridges over railway lines, while British Waterways is responsible for all bridges over the canal network.

All public rights of way should be signposted where they leave a road. We have an on-going programme of replacing missing and broken signposts. If you notice any, please let us know.

Intimidating behaviour designed to stop the use of a public right of way may be an offence and may amount to obstruction of the path. Such issues should be reported to us. If the behaviour is a public nuisance, the police should also be told.

Owners and occupiers of land crossed by public rights of way can be liable for injuries caused by negligence. For example, if a stile were to collapse under a walker, or if someone was injured by an electric fence placed across a path, the injured party may pursue a claim. We are responsible for the right of way surface. In certain circumstances, we will be liable if the injury is due to a negligent act.

There should never be exposed barbed wire or electric fences across a public right of way without a means of crossing. Where a barbed wire or electric fence is alongside a right of way, it may be a danger. There should be electric fence warning signs at regular intervals.

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