With an increase in walking in the countryside presently, due to the spring weather and the COVID-19 lockdown, there is likely to be an increase in visitors unfamiliar with the footpath and bridleway regulations. With this could bring questions from those living near to rural areas of the landowners as to why some areas are considered a public right of way and others are not – as well as questions from landowners as to how they can stop their land becoming such a public space.
A Public Right of Way (PROW) is a right that any member of
the population has to pass over or along a particular route. Each local
authority will keep an up to date ‘Definitive Map’ that shows all legal PROWs.
Once in the Definitive Map, responsibility falls to the Council to legally protect
the PROW from obstruction.
PROW by Implied or Specific Dedication
Any walk in the countryside will bring to the attention of
the walker a number of green signs, usually by gates or stiles, stating that
the route is a public footpath, bridleway or carriageway. These accesses can be
set through specific definition or by implication.
A PROW can be implied and therefore legally created if it
has been used by the public, without force, secrecy or permission for at least
20 years, where a landowner has not attempted to stop use of the access by
locking gates, erecting notices or asking the public not to use the land. Once
created, the PROW is considered a ‘highway’ and will do for as long as it is
Some PROWs can be created by agreement with the local
authority or by order of a local authority. The local authority may also amend
the route of a PROW or re-grade it if there is evidence that it is incorrectly
classified, for example as a footpath when it should be a bridleway.
Maintenance of PROWs
Responsibility for maintenance of a PROW usually lands with
the local highways authority, unless agreed with the landowners – present or
pre-dated, where they have adopted responsibility through repeat acts of
maintenance. There are a number of ways in which a landowner may be breaking
the law by making the PROW inaccessible. These may include:
The presence of a bull unless it is under 10
months old, not a recognised dairy breed or accompanied by cows or heifers
Ploughing up the PROW – this is relaxed where
there is good agricultural reason for the ploughing, in which case the land
must be returned to a passable condition within 14 days for sowing or 24 hours
for any other reason
Interfering with signage or adding misleading
signage such as ‘Private Road’ signs
Blocking a PROW with a hedge, fence or obstacle
– even if a gate or stile has been installed
Preventing a PROW
There are some steps that landowners can take to attempt to
stop a new PROW being added to their land. Erecting notices to inform the
public that the route is not a right of way or by saying that access is granted
by permission of the landowner only, with evidence of the notices being in situ
– a date stamped photograph as evidence for example. Notices should be
maintained by the landowner with any defacing or detachment made known to the Council.
Fencing the land and locking gates at least once a year, in addition to
challenging any members of the public in a lawful manner, are also considered
The landowner may submit a highways statement and
declaration to the Council, with a map showing the existing PROWs already in
existence and make a statement that there is no intention to create further
PROW access. Further declarations should be submitted every 20 years to
continue to block any further accesses being claimed as PROW.
If you are in a situation with your land where you need help
or support, are finding your farming activities challenging due to access by
members of the public or have land which is becoming frequently used and you
wish to avoid having a PROW in place either implied or otherwise, please contact
your local Rural team who will be able to help, advise and support you