Rights and responsibilities in relation to public rights of way

Find information about rights and responsibilities of the public, local authorities, and landowners and land managers in relation to public rights of way.

Everyone has rights and responsibilities in the countryside in relation to public rights of way, and we are all responsible for ensuring that the network is accessible and used with care.

We have outlined the general rights and responsibilities of:

  • the public
  • local authorities
  • landowners and land managers

Rights of the public

Pedestrians have the right to use public footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic.

Equestrians have the right to use bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic.

Cyclists have the right to use bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic.

Horse drawn vehicles have the right to use restricted byways and byways open to all traffic.

Motorbikes and vehicles have the right to us byways open to all traffic, unless there are restrictions in place. They cannot use restricted byways.

The public have the right to pass and repass along the public right of way. This may include admiring the view, taking a photograph, or resting, as long as you stay on the line of the path and do not cause an obstruction.

You may take a dog with you but it must be kept under close control.

You may take a short route around an illegal obstruction or remove it sufficiently to get past.

Responsibilities of the public

Use maps (paper or electronic) to find your way around and look out for waymark posts and signposts.

Walk in single file across arable land. Avoid spreading out and trespassing on a wide area.

Avoid obstructing field gateways when parking. Use laybys and car parks where possible.

Keep dogs under close control, and clear up after them at all times. Do not allow your dog to worry livestock, run through arable crops or flush game from hedgerows.

Follow the countryside code.

Suffolk County Council responsibilities

Ensure the definitive map and statement are kept up to date.

Ensure that public rights of way are free from obstruction and can be used by the public at all times. An obstruction can be anything that prevents the convenient use of the route

Enforce the rights of the public and ensure that land managers are fulfilling their responsibilities.

Signpost all public rights of way where they leave a metalled road, and provide additional signs and waymarks where necessary..

Keep the surface of public rights of way in good repair and manage natural surface growth, including field headlands.

Ensure that farmers comply with the law that paths over cultivated land are properly restored after they have been disturbed, and remain apparent on the ground thereafter.

Ensure maintenance is carried out on existing bridges and culverts, and the installation of new ones.

Authorise gates and stiles on public rights of way where appropriate.

Provide a 25% grant to landowners for the repair or improvement of structures.

District and borough council responsibilities

Exercise their powers to make public path orders and agreements.

We have worked with the National Farmers Union, Country Landowners and Business Association, Farming and Wildlife Advisory Group, Suffolk Agriculture Association, and Suffolk Local Access Forum to revise our enforcement procedures and develop land manager guidance on rights and responsibilities.

Cross compliance requirements reinforce the important role that land managers play in managing our public rights of way network. Our enforcement procedure and land manager guidance clarify how we will work with the Rural Payments Agency regarding cases of non-compliance.

Rights

To require the public to leave your land where they have no right of access.

To ensure that the public understand that conservation margins and buffer strips are not public rights of way, you can buy signs from Suffolk FWAG or from Linking Environment and Farming. Those in agri-environment schemes can obtain advice from Natural England.

To protect your land from claimed/new public rights of way by submitting a deposit under section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980, erecting signs, locking gates, or challenging members of the public.

To give consent for additional public access on your land (either temporarily or permanently) using a licensed path agreement (normally for a period of 10 years), or by dedicating a route to the public as a new public right of way.

Responsibilities

Ensure that you know where the public rights of way are across your land and that a check is carried out when purchasing new land or property. If you wish to apply to divert a public right of way on your land you can find more information on our definitive map and statement page.

Do not obstruct public rights of way, or allow public rights of way to be obstructed. An obstruction can be anything that prevents convenient use of the route.

Ensure that the public are not deterred from using a public right of way, for example verbally or by misleading signs.

Ensure cross-field routes are convenient, apparent and free from obstruction to the minimum width.

If cross-field footpaths and cross-field bridleways have to be disturbed for agriculture and this cannot reasonably be avoided, ensure that they are reinstated so that they are reasonably easy to use.

Ensure headland routes are convenient, apparent and free from obstruction to the minimum width.

Never plough a restricted byway or a byway open to all traffic.

Do not keep bulls of a recognised dairy breed in a field crossed by a public rights of way unless they are under 10 months old, or are not a recognised dairy breed but are accompanied by cows and heifers.

Ensure stiles and gates are authorised by us are maintained in a safe condition and are easy to use. Remove any unnecessary structures.

Do not place barbed wire across public rights of way, or attach it to structures. If barbed wire is essential, place it stock side of the fence and place plain wire on the public rights of way side to avoid injury.

Avoid using firearms on or adjacent to public rights of way. Know the law before commencing a shoot in the vicinity of a public right of way. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) publishes a code of good shooting practice which can be found on their website.

Works affecting a public right of way

It is an offence under section 131A and section 263(1) of the Highways Act 1980 to disturb or damage the surface of a public right of way without lawful authority. If, as a land manager, you need to undertake work which may affect a public right of way, you must download and complete our application for authorisation to do work on public rights of way (PDF, 172KB).

Public rights of way must remain open and free from obstruction at all times. If you need carry out works that may impact this, you must contact the appropriate Area Rights of Way Team as you may need to apply for a temporary closure. More information about temporary closures can be found on our traffic regulation orders (TRO) page.

Crops and public rights of way

You must ensure that the minimum legal width of a public right of way is kept clear from crops.

In general it is safer to cut vegetation rather than to kill it by spraying as spraying paths can endanger people and animals. However, some herbicides are approved for use in killing vegetation growing on public rights of way.

Before using any spray for this purpose you must check the product label and consider health and safety requirements. If the product label states that people and animals should stay out of a treated crop you should place warning signs where paths enter the sprayed area.

Notices should aim to stop people from using the public right of way.

You should cease spraying immediately if anyone steps onto a path which crosses or adjoins a field that is being sprayed.

You should not overspray public rights of way or allow spray to drift onto them when treating a crop.

At its full height oil seed rape can reach 6 feet tall. Even if the width of a cross-field path is left unsown, fully grown rape will fall across creating an obstacle. To prevent obstruction it is generally necessary to leave a strip 1.8 metres wide on each side of the path.