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Facts about public rights of way

Rights of way are routes for walking, horse-riding, cycling or driving (depending on their status) in the countryside and urban areas.  They are just like roads; they provide a means of travelling from one place to another and are protected by highway law and legislation.  ​

Bikes, wheelchairs and pushchairs

Cyclists may use bridleways, by-ways open to all traffic and regular byways. They must give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways. There is no right to cycle along public footpaths. You may take a wheelchair or a pushchair along any public right of way, although it may not be practical to do so.

Shooting

It is not a specific offence to shoot across a public right of way but to do so could amount to a common law nuisance, wilful obstruction of the highway, a breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974 or intimidation. It is an offence for anyone except the landowner or occupier (or someone with their permission) to carry and discharge a loaded firearm or air gun in a public place, including any public right of way.

Dogs

It is accepted that dogs can be taken along a public right of way, but you must keep it on a lead or otherwise under close control, and on the path, especially in the presence of stock. Note that a landowner has the right, in the last resort, to shoot any dog worrying his sheep. When taking a dog through a field with cattle be aware that they may chase the dog, particularly if they have calves. Consider your safety and that of your dog. On the other hand, landowners must not keep intimidating dogs on a right of way, nor must they keep any animal (cattle, horses, dogs etc.) known to be dangerous, in a field crossed by a public right of way. It is an offence to let your dog foul a footpath and you may face a fine if you let them do so.

Obstructions

You may remove a sufficient amount of an obstruction on a public right of way to get by or else you may take a short detour to get around it, but be careful not to trespass on another owner’s land. Be aware however that if, for instance, you cut an illegal fence wire across a public right of way thereby allowing stock to escape onto a road you could be liable for damages. It is best to report the obstruction to us to take action.

Bulls

In general bulls must not be kept in any field crossed by a right of way. The exceptions are:

  • where they are no more than 10 months old
  • where they are not of a recognised dairy breed and are accompanied by cows or heifers

Breeds of bull that must NOT be kept in fields with a path are: Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry. Farmers are advised to ensure they comply with the HSE Agricultural Information Sheet no. 17.

Electric fences and barbed wire

Moveable electric fences play an important part in modern farming. We can give advice to farmers on providing access through such fences where they have to cross public rights of way. However it is best if this can be avoided. Electric fences adjacent to public rights of way should be clearly labelled. It is an offence to place barbed wire across a public right of way. Barbed wire adjacent to a path could be considered to be a ‘public nuisance’. A walker or rider who is injured or damages their clothes on barbed wire when using the path could claim for damages against the landowner.

Widths

The definitive map and statement kept by us occasionally specifies the width of a path. However, there is sometimes reliable documentary evidence that indicates the likely width. In the absence of evidence of the width and where rights of way pass over cultivated land, reference should be made to the Rights of Way Act of 1990. It states that headland and field edge rights of way should never be ploughed. Further details can be obtained from us. Obstructions and misleading signs on rights of way are unlawful and should be reported to us.

Help us to help you

You may also find more in depth answers to queries you may have concerning rights of way through Outdoors West.We carry out regular surveys on rights of way however we rely on the public to report issues when they come across them. The best way to do this is by either contacting us or through the Outdoors West website and the interactive mapping page.​

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