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Rights and responsibilities

1. Managing reported issues

Path category

Category 1

Approximately 30% of the network, this includes:

  • the Thames Path and The Ridgeway National Trails
  • the 37 county council promoted routes
  • canal towpaths
  • paths known to have high-volume usage

Category 2

Approximately 25% of the network, this includes:

  • health walks routes and promoted parish routes
  • routes within 0.5km of a settlement boundary
  • other routes within the Chilterns AONB

Category 3

Approximately 45% of the network which is the remainder of the network.

 

Problem severity definitions

High severity (A)

Problem reported or identified by the County Council as an immediate or potential danger or nuisance to the public requiring priority action or other action that is time-limited

  • Hung up tree or branch
  • Potentially dangerous structure
  • Electric fence across path
  • Fallen tree completely blocking path or partially blocking bridleway
  • Dangerous animal
  • Aggressive landowner / intimidation
  • Shooting near to or across path

Medium severity (B)

Ploughing/Cropping and maintenance items

Problems reported or identified by the County Council that do not present a danger to users

  • Path obstructed due to undergrowth or overgrowth
  • Missing signpost / replacement signpost / Waymarking
  • Routine structure repair / replacement
  • Disturbance of surface of a path
  • Path obstructed due to growing crop
  • Path reinstated but to less than minimum requirement

Medium severity (C)

Other enforcement items

Issues where action may be commenced quickly but may take longer to fully resolve

  • Complete obstruction of path
  • New or recent erection of fence across path
  • New or recent encroachment
  • New or recent unauthorised structure on path
  • Electric Fence / Barbed Wire adjacent to path uninsulated / not signed

Low severity (D)

Issues that can be classified as minor, technical infringements often reported only by user group survey, issues that can be addressed as and when resources available / in the area

  • Path being used by public not on definitive line
  • Horses on footpaths not causing damage
  • Cycling on footpaths not causing damage
  • Surface out of repair (non-specific danger)
  • Signpost repair
  • Structure improvement
  • Requests for dog access
  • Fallen tree on path where public are deviating around
  • Path diversions, except where formal applications submitted
  • A long-standing obstruction with the public happy to use alternative.

Improvement (I)

All improvement works. A 6-month timescale is allocated once works are programmed. No timescale is required for improvements that are not programmed. 

 

Timescales 

Problem severity Category 1 Category 2 Category 3
High severity (A) Within 5 working days Within 10 working days Within 15 working days
Medium severity (B) Within 3 months Within 4 months Within 6 months
Medium severity (C) Within 3 months Within 5 months Within 6 months
Low severity (D) Within 3 months Within 6 months Basic maintenance within 12 months

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).

Signposts and status
Colour Meaning
 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 County 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 County 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.

Surfaces

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).

Guide to minimum path widths on arable land only
  Minimum edge Maximum edge

Cross-field footpath

1.0 metres

1.8 metres

Field-edge footpath

1.5 metres

1.8 metres

Cross-field bridleway

2.0 metres

3.0 metres

Field-edge bridleway

3.0 metres

3.0 metres

Byway*

3.0 metres

5.0 metres

*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 County 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

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).

 

Vegetation

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)).

Undergrowth

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

Agricultural

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).

Firearms

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)

 

Illegal behaviour

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:

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).

Trespass

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 District Council are responsible for clearing litter on rights of way.

If a path is completely blocked by fly-tipping, then we also have a duty to act. (Environmental Protection act 1990 section 86 & 89).

3. Structures on rights of way

Apply to us to erect or alter structures, such as gates on or across a public right of way.

  1. When a gate is required for stock control on farming land
  2. Where a structure is required for public safety
  3. When the Definitive Map and Statement records a structure as a limitation on the right of way. Provided that structure has not been removed for 20 years or more

 

New structures for stock control

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires us to make reasonable adjustments to our services to enable them to be used by everyone. 

This means we would prefer simply leaving a gap, followed a simple gate structure. We no longer authorise stiles. 

To apply please complete the Section 147 Form (28 Kb)

4. Autumn cultivation information for farmers

The information below is the legal requirements, regarding the reinstatement of the county's paths or rights of way. 

We appreciate the care that you take in looking after public rights of way.

For requests to secure a better access, i.e. stile structures that could be replaced, or undergrowth impeding a field edge path. Please get in touch with us using our contact us form.

  • You may plough a public right of way only if it is not convenient to avoid disturbing the path.
  • Your right to disturb the path only applies if you are in a position to reinstate it;
    • Within 14 days of the first disturbance, the path must be levelled and made visible.
    • Within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance, the path must be levelled and made visible.
  • If there is no recorded width the reinstatement must be:
    • At least 1 metre for a cross-field footpath, across the cultivation
    • 2 metres for a crossfield bridleway across the cultivations if there is no recorded width.
  • This can be done either by consolidating the line or by setting poles in pairs. One metre apart for a footpath, and 2 metres apart for a bridleway at visible distances apart across the cultivations.
  • It is not sufficient to leave the path in a seedbed. 
  • The route must be visible across the field so that it is convenient for use by the public.
  • Upon full emergence, the crop must be removed to the minimum width from the line of the route.
  • Throughout the season paths must be kept clear of growing or overhanging crops to the minimum width. Again, where no width is recorded, the widths are as in (3) above. I would also remind you that, because some types of crop, such as oilseed rape, are prone to fall in. In these cases, a greater width should be removed to allow them to lodge over without obstructing the minimum width.
  • Should you farmland where a path follows a field edge, the route must not be disturbed or ploughed.
  • Where field edge paths have no recorded width, it must be left undisturbed. To a minimum usable width of 1.5 metres for a footpath and 3 metres for a bridleway.
  • Please note that these widths are only applicable to paths that cross land in arable cultivation.

Additionally, the Highways Act 1980 places a duty on the landowner to:

  • maintain structures on public paths to a safe condition
  • to a standard of repair required to prevent unreasonable interference with public rights.

The Act also requires the owner or occupier of land adjoining a path, not to endanger or obstruct the public's use with hedge growth, trees or shrubs. 

For further information or advice please call  01296 382416 or use our contact us form.

5. Reporting a rights of way issue

Please use our online reporting tool, for any rights of way issues you encounter.

Report It