Maintaining public rights of way
2. Rights and responsibilities
Structures and surfaces
Signs, waymarkers & notices
We are required to erect signposts at each point where a path meets a public road, or anywhere along the route where it may be unclear to members of the public. The signpost will always indicate the status of the path. (Countryside Act 1968 section 27).
|Yellow arrow||Public footpaths|
|Blue arrow||Public bridleways|
|Purple arrow||Restricted byways|
|Red arrow||Byways open to all traffic|
Misleading and unlawful signs can deter people from lawfully exercising their right to use the path. The Council has a duty to prevent such an occurrence and can remove unlawful signs from a right of way. (National Parks and Access to the Countryside act 1949 Section 57).
Stiles & gates
Landowners have a duty to ensure that any authorised stiles and gates on their land are kept in good condition. Our duty is to ensure that the landowner complies with this obligation and may provide a grant to maintain/improve such structures. (Highways Act 1980 Section 146).
If the landowner/occupier wishes to install additional structures across the footpath or bridleway, an application must be made in writing to the Council. Stiles and gates can be erected for stock control (Highways Act 1980 Section 147) and not for security or other purposes.
To improve access we will seek through negotiation with landowners, by replacing existing stiles with pedestrian gates and kissing gates.
Bridges and culverts
The responsibility for the provision and repair of bridges and culverts is shared between the landowner and us and may be different in each case. The Rail Authority is responsible for most structures over railway lines and British Waterways for all structures over the canal network.
We own the surface of all rights of way, with landowners’ interest extending only to the subsoil. We have a duty to protect the interests of users and will take enforcement action to ensure that the surface of rights of way unlawfully disturbed is adequately reinstated.
The width of rights of way
Most rights of way in Buckinghamshire have no recorded width. In the absence of evidence, we will require a reasonable width sufficient for two users to pass.
- 2 metres for a footpath
- 4 metres for a bridleway
Statutory default minimum widths apply only in relation to path reinstatement on arable land following ploughing. (Highways Act 1980 Schedule 12a).
|Minimum edge||Maximum edge|
*Cross field/field edge Byways or Restricted Byways must not be cultivated, ploughed, or cropped.
Please note that those widths are on paths on Arable land only and should not be used as a guide width to fence in a path. If you are going to fence a public right of way, contact the Rights of Way Team on 01296 382416 in order to check if the path has a recorded legal width. This may prevent you from having the expense of removing or resetting a new fence line if it encroaches on the legal minimum width of the right of way.
Plain, barbed, or electrified wire
Putting any type of wire across a right of way is an offence. Running wire along the side of rights of way is not necessarily illegal but it can be considered a nuisance to the public. In such a case, the Council may serve legal notice on landowners or occupiers to remove the danger (Highway Act 1980 section 164). If a landowner puts up a temporary electric fence and provides an insulated handle to enable users to pass through safely and without inconvenience, this may be considered acceptable. An appropriate 'electric fence' sign should also be displayed on the exposed wire.
Animals on rights of way
Dogs are allowed on public rights of way but they must be kept under close control at all times. There is no definition of 'close control' - it generally means that a dog responds to commands and is kept close at heel. There is no specific requirement in law for a dog to be on a lead. A path user who allows a dog to wander off a right of way becomes a trespasser. Farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals (Animal Act 1971 Section 9).
It is an offence to keep a dangerous or intimidating dog on a right of way. It may be considered a public nuisance. We will request an owner to take action to ensure that dogs do not intimidate the public and may also inform the police.
Dog owners are required to clean up after their dog if it fouls a public path. This is enforced by Dog Wardens from District Councils. Dog Wardens may issue fixed penalty notices. (The Dogs (Fouling of Land) Act 1996). Should you wish to report a dog fouling incident, please contact the relevant District Council.
Bulls and other dangerous animals
It is lawful to keep beef breeds of bulls under 10 months of age and a beef breed bull over 10 months kept with cows or heifers in a field that contains a right of way. No bull of a recognised dairy breed is permitted and no bull should be at large on its own whatever of its breed.
An owner can be sued for an injury caused by an animal that is known to be dangerous, which is kept in a right of way field. We will approach the landowner to request the removal of such animals and report injuries to the Health and Safety Executive. (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 section 59).
Trees and hedges
In most cases, it is the landowner’s responsibility to maintain hedges and trees adjacent to rights of way. We have the power to require owners to remove overgrowth within a period of 14 days (Highway Act 1980 section 154). If the landowner fails to comply, we may remove the obstruction at the owner’s expense. (Highways Act 1980 section 150 (4)).
We are responsible for clearing any vegetation naturally growing on the surface of a path. We have an annual maintenance schedule to clear the routes and respond to requests for clearance as required.
Activities on rights of way
Where a right of way crosses the land on which a crop has been planted or sown, the landowner has a duty to ensure:
- that the line of the right of way is indicated on the ground to no less than a minimum prescribed width
- prevent the crop from encroaching on the path
Failure to do so is a criminal offence. (Highways Act 1980 section 137a).
Farmers have a statutory right to plough up a Right of Way only if it is not reasonable for the path to be avoided. The path must be reinstated and made safe for public use within 14 days of first ploughing and within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance or cultivation. This only applies to footpaths and bridleways. Restricted byways, byways open to all traffic and any path that follows the field headland must not be ploughed up at all.
We may serve a formal notice stating that:
- we will carry out the necessary work
- recover the costs from the offender
- we could take actions to prosecute for the offence through the courts
Pesticides & herbicides
The Health and Safety Executive advises that rights of way should not be over sprayed and warning notices may be required. (Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 section 3, Highways Act 1980 Section 161).
It is not a specific offence to shoot across a right of way, although it may amount to a common law nuisance or intimidation depending on the circumstances. It is an offence to discharge a firearm within 50 feet of the centre of a carriageway. (Highways Act 1980 section 161).
It is an offence to have loaded airgun or other firearms (loaded and unloaded) with ammunition in a public place. Unless the person has lawful authority or a reasonable excuse. (Firearms Act 1968 section 19).
Competitions and speed trials
It is an offence to hold a motor vehicle race on a public highway (Public Rights of Way are highways) without authority. (Road Traffic Act 1988 section 31)
Driving a motor vehicle on footpath, bridleway or restricted byway
It is an offence to drive a motor vehicle on a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway without 'lawful' authority (Road Traffic Act 1988 section 34). Lawful authority can be having the consent of the owner of the land.
Obstruction and encroachment
We have a statutory duty to remove all obstructions and encroachments on public rights of way (Highways Act 1980 section 130).
If you find any obstruction or encroachment:
- check that the path is recorded as a public right of way and report the problem by calling 01296 382416 or fill in an online issue report form
- if the path is not recorded as a public right of way, it can be claimed as a public right of way if there is evidence that public rights have been established. See Mapping the Network page for more information.
Intimidation or threatening behaviour
The use of intimidating behaviour with the intention to deter the use of a right of way could be an offence. In the first instance, we will seek to address any underlying issues that have lead to the situation in conjunction with the police. (Public Order Act 1986 Section 4).
A landowner has the right to claim that a person is trespassing if:
- they are on private land when access rights or other public access arrangements do not apply
- they fail to comply with any conditions attached to their access.
In most cases, this will be a civil matter. Trespass on certain land such as around railways, airports, ports and military land may be a criminal matter.
Litter and fly-tipping
The Council is responsible for clearing litter on rights of way. Please report this via your local area website.
If a path is completely blocked by fly-tipping, then we also have a duty to act. (Environmental Protection act 1990 section 86 & 89).
Last updated: 19 April 2021