public right of way

Public Right of Way

Monday, 20 April 2020

Public Right of Way

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.

public right of way

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 not challenged.

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:

Public right of way

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 evidence.

Highways Statement

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.

Support for Landowners

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