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Responsibilities for rights of way

Responsibilities for public rights of way fall to four main groups – the district council, the parish council, the landowner or occupier and the public using the right of way. Each group has duties towards their rights of way ensuring they are usable, safe, legal and enjoyable.

The council’s responsibilities

  • maintaining the definitive map of public rights of way that can be inspected at our Badminton Road offices in Yate. Working copies are supplied to parish councils
  • signposting and, where appropriate, waymarking of footpaths, bridleways and by-ways
  • maintaining and controlling natural vegetation on the surface of footpaths and bridleways. In practice, few field paths receive routine maintenance and walkers should expect to wear boots or wellingtons in poor weather
  • maintaining bridges over natural watercourses
  • making contributions to farmers or landowners of at least a quarter of the cost of maintaining approved stiles, kissing gates and bridlegates
  • promoting and asserting the public’s rights on public rights of way (view our enforcement policy)
  • supporting the Joint Local Access Forum and Outdoors West, in association with Bristol City Council and Bath and North East Somerset Council and jointly publishing the Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP)
  • a legal requirement to make information accessible for Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 definitive map modification orders online – the online register may be found here
  • a legal requirement to make information accessible for section 31 (6) Highways Act 1980 deposits – Note that legislation came into force on 1 October 2013 which made changes to the way in which landowners make deposits under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980. The changes included: 1) the requirement for landowners to complete an application form (encompassing the statement and declaration), 2) the provision for reasonable fees to be charged by the authority, 3) the deposit renewal period increased from 10 to 20 years, 4) notices informing the public of the deposit must be displayed on our website. In addition there is provision to make a combined deposit providing evidence to negative claims for public rights of way (under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980) and town/village greens claims (under Section 15A(1) of the Commons Act 2006)
  • dealing with applications to make changes to paths and the definitive maps. More information on this can be found in the leaflet “A guide to definitive maps and changes to public rights of way”. Application forms for landowners and developers for diversions are available in the related links box. Forms for applications under Schedule 14 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 are available from the public rights of way team.

Further details and the prescribed forms are contained in ‘Statutory Instrument 2013 No. 1774 The Commons (Registration of Town or Village Greens) and Dedicated Highways (Landowner Statements and Declarations) (England) Regulations 2013’. This can be downloaded from These changes have implications for the way in which we deal with landowner deposits, we are therefore in the process of reviewing our guidance notes and procedures.

Parish council responsibilities

  • may undertake the maintenance of any public footpath or bridleway in the parish. Maintenance means, in effect, the cutting back of surface vegetation and surface repairs
  • if a right of way is obstructed, the parish council can require the highway authority to assert and protect the public’s right to use the way concerned and to keep it free from obstruction
  • consulting on proposals to modify, reclassify, close and divert rights of way
  • carrying out waymarking once landowners’ permission has been gained
  • insisting the highway authority sign any footpaths, bridleways, roads used as public paths and by-ways open to all traffic where they leave a metalled road
  • creating new footpaths and bridleways, by agreement with the landowner
  • having a kissing gate installed in place of a stile, at the parish council’s expense, once the landowner’s consent has been given

 The landowner or occupier’s responsibilities

  • cutting back vegetation encroaching from the side or above to maintain the minimum dimensions
  • providing and maintaining in good order stiles, kissing gates and gates on rights of way
  • keeping rights of way free from obstructions such as barbed wire, locked gates or machinery
  • providing bridges where new drainage ditches are made or existing ones widened (bridges must be to the highway authority specification
  • ensuring that field edge rights of way are not ploughed or disturbed
  • ensuring that cross-field footpaths and bridleways are reinstated within 2 weeks of first being ploughed or disturbed for that crop, or within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance (Rights of Way Act, 1990). See Ploughing and Cropping leaflet.
  • ensuring that any path over cultivated land remains apparent on the ground at all times and is not impeded by growing crops other than grass (Rights of Way Act, 1990)
  • ensuring that bulls are not kept in a field crossed by a path unless they are less than 10 months old or are of a beef breed and accompanied by cows or heifers
  • ensuring that a right of way is kept open on its proper line and is not diverted or moved unless a diversion order has been made and become operative. Landowners may apply for a diversion order under Section 119 of the Highways Act 1980 for a path.
  • ensuring that no new boundary is installed across a right of way unless it is for agricultural purposes and the highway authority has authorised a gate

The public’s responsibilities

  • ensuring safety – by planning ahead, following any signs and taking a map if you do not know where you are going
  • even when going out locally, it’s best to get the latest information about where and when you can go – for example your rights to go onto some areas of open land may be restricted while work is carried out – for safety reasons or during breeding seasons. Follow advice and local signs and be prepared for the unexpected
  • leaving gates and property as you find them
  • respecting the working life of the countryside, as our actions can affect people’s livelihoods, our heritage and the safety and welfare of animals and ourselves
  • protecting plants and animals and taking your litter home
  • we have a responsibility to protect our countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don’t harm animals, birds, plants or trees
  • keeping dogs under close control
  • the countryside is a great place to exercise dogs but it’s every owner’s duty to make sure their dog is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, wildlife or other people
  • showing consideration and respect for other people – it makes the countryside a pleasant environment for everyone – at home, at work and at leisure
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