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Rights of Way A-Z

An almost comprehensive list of Rights of Way topics!

Access land

Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW), the public can walk freely on mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath, downland and registered common land.

The right of access started on the 28th of May 2005 and it applies to the open country and registered common land of Ruabon, Minera and Esclusham Mountains, and the Berwyn Range above the Ceiriog Valley; here you can walk, ramble, run, explore, climb and watch wildlife without having to stick to Rights of Way.

The latest editions of the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps show Access Land with a yellow tint. With assistance from Countryside Council for Wales (now Natural Resources Wales), WCBC has recently (December 2012) strimmed Public Rights of Way across access land. These paths should now be easy to follow and provide an excellent base from which you may wish to explore further afield.

For more information, please see the Natural Resources Wales website (external link).

Barbed wire

Barbed wire across a Public Right of Way

A barbed wire fence or exposed barbed wire erected across a Public Right of Way without an adequate means of crossing is an offence. It is an obstruction to the Public Right of Way, and also a nuisance and a danger to members of the public.

Barbed wire alongside a Public Right of Way

Where a barbed wire fence is situated alongside a Public Right of Way and if in the opinion of this Department the barbed wire represents a danger and a nuisance to the public, we will ask the landowner to make the fence safe.

Bulls and dangerous animals

It is an offence for the occupier of land crossed by a Public Right of Way or land with Public Access to allow a bull over 10 months old and on its own and / or any bull of a recognised dairy breed (even if accompanied by cows / heifers) to be at large in it.

Bulls which are less than 10 months old or of a recognised beef breed and at large with cows / heifers are exempt.

If any animal, which is known to be dangerous by the keeper of the animal, causes injury to a member of the public using a Public Right of Way or land with Public Access an offence may have been committed, and the occupier could be sued by the injured party.

Crops growing on Public Rights of Way

Where a crop (other than grass) has been planted or sown on the land crossed by a Public Right of Way, the occupier has a duty to ensure that the line on the ground of the Public Right of Way is indicated to not less than the minimum width (1m for Public Footpaths and 2m for Public Bridleways). Additionally the occupier has a duty to prevent the crop from encroaching within that width throughout the growing season. Failure to fulfil this duty is a criminal offence.

It could also be a criminal offence - if when used for pasture / hay / silage / etc - grass grows in such a way as to cause an obstruction (e.g. if it is particularly tall or thick).

Dangerous land adjoining a Public Right of Way

From time to time the Council encounters unfenced dangers on adjoining land which present hazards to path users (e.g. a dangerously out of repair building, etc). The Council has a duty to protect path users from such dangers, and will enter into dialogue with the owner of the adjacent land to urge them to remove or adequately fence off the danger.

The Council can require the owner of the dangerous land to carry out the necessary works by service of notice. If the owner does not comply with the notice the Council may carry out the work and recover the costs from the owner.

Definitive Map

Definitive Maps are the legal record of the Public's Rights of Way. The Council is responsible for the Definitive Map, and if a way is shown on it then it is conclusive evidence of public rights along the way, unless there has been a legally authorised change.

Dogs on Public Rights of Way / Access Land

Dogs are allowed on Public Rights of Way but they should be kept under close control at all times.

There is no requirement in law for a dog to be on a lead. A path user who allows a dog to wander off the Public Right of Way becomes a trespasser and owners / occupiers have a right to ask them to leave the land.

If a dog is likely to wander off the line of the path or if there are livestock in the field, the owners are advised to keep the dog on a lead.

On access land, dogs must be on short fixed leads (of no more than two metres) between 1 March and 31 July to protect ground nesting birds, or at any time when they are near livestock.

Diversions / Closures / Modifications / Legal events / etc

Can a Right of Way be diverted?

Yes, footpaths and bridleways can be diverted under the Highway Act (1980), or under the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) if there is a planning application pending. The alteration of a byway must go before a Magistrate's Court.

Can a Right of Way be extinguished?

Yes, it is possible to extinguish a Right of Way under the Highways Act (1980), the Town and Country Planning Act (1990) or the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981). However, such applications generally receive tremendous objection and are often not processed or confirmed as a result.

Can a Right of Way be added to the Definitive Map?

There are two main ways that this can be done:

Public Right of Way Temporary Closures

Under the Road Traffic Regulation Act (1984), the Council has the power to make temporary traffic regulation orders to restrict or prohibit the use of a Public Right of Way. There are a number of different temporary closures that can be made:

Landowners or people undertaking works in the vicinity of a Public Right of Way, such as utility companies or contractors, can apply to the Council for a temporary closure. There is an administration fee to cover the full costs of making a closure and the applicant must also cover the advertising costs for a closure order. If the landowner or people undertaking the works do not apply for a closure, they may be liable for any injury or accident occurring to a member of the public using the Public Right of Way.

The process for temporary closures is:

Full details of the legal process and application forms can be provided on request. For further information contact us.

Electric fences

Electric fences across a Public Right of Way:

An electric fence erected across a Public Right of Way without a safe means of crossing is an offence. It is an obstruction to the Public Right of Way, a nuisance and a danger to members of the public. We would firstly ask the owner of the electric fence to remove it immediately, or if it is necessary for agriculture, to provide an adequate means of crossing it on the line of the path. The latter needs to be authorised by the Council as it would constitute a new structure. If the owner fails to agree to either of these courses of action we will remove the electric fence where it affects the path without further notice. If the owner continues to commit further offences of this nature we will consider prosecution for obstruction.

Electric fences alongside a Public Right of Way:

Where an electric fence runs alongside a Public Right of Way it may be a danger and a nuisance to members of the public. If in the opinion of the Council this is the case then we would firstly ask the owner to make the fence safe. If the owner refuses or fails to do so we will serve legal notice requiring the owner to remove the source of danger within a specified time. Failure to comply with the notice will result in the Council removing the fence and recovering costs from the owner.

Encroachment

An encroachment is an unlawful obstruction of the highway. When an encroachment has occurred or alleged to have occurred we have a legal duty to investigate.

Consideration will be given to whether the encroachment has actually occurred and is materially affecting the way or may do so in the future. This may require considerable work including historical research to establish the legitimate width of the highway.

If it is demonstrated to the Council's satisfaction that encroachment has occurred, but it is not materially affecting the path or the rights of users, the Council may regard it as 'de minimis' ("the law is not concerned with trifles"). In these circumstances the Council will inform the person responsible that their actions are unlawful and any additional encroachment will result in enforcement action to remove the encroachment.

If the encroachment has been found to the Council's satisfaction to be materially affecting the Public Right of Way action will be taken to have it removed. Firstly the circumstances will be brought to the attention of the person responsible and they will be asked to remove the encroachment within a reasonable time-scale to be determined by the Council. If this fails to secure the removal of the encroachment, the Council will commence enforcement action in respect of the obstruction.

Fencing

Where a Public Right of Way crosses previously unenclosed land, and the landowner / occupier encloses the land (e.g. by erecting a fence or planting a hedge alongside the path), they then become responsible for the maintenance of the surface of the route. They will also be responsible if an accident occurs due to problems with the surface.

If a path is enclosed in this way, particularly if the path is made very narrow, there can be problems with the surface falling into disrepair very quickly. If the surface does fall into disrepair the landowner / occupier will be required to make it good, for example by providing a better surface, carrying out drainage works or by increasing the width.

Gates

See Stiles and gates.

Hedges / trees / overgrowth on or adjacent to Public Rights of Way

In most circumstances the responsibilities of the Council do not extend to the maintenance of hedges and trees at the side of Public Rights of Way, but to the landowner / occupier instead.

Where a hedge overhangs or obstructs a Public Right of Way, the Council has a right to remove so much of the overgrowth to prevent the obstruction to pedestrians and equestrians. Additionally, the Council has a power to require the owners of overhanging hedges and trees to remove them within a period of 14 days.

If a branch of a tree has fallen across a Public Right of Way such that the way is obstructed we will contact the owner of the tree and request that the branch is removed within a predetermined time. If the owner fails to comply with this request the Council will serve notice on the owner of its intention to remove the branch and recover from the person the costs incurred.

Legislation

Rights of Way are affected by several pieces of legislation; they are generally complicated Acts with varying degrees of interconnectivity.

National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949

This secured the creation of definitive maps and statements, upon which certain types of Rights of Way were to be recorded (often for the first time).

Countryside Act 1968

This Act established country parks and had general duties relating to the countryside generally, including long distance routes.

Highways Act 1980

This Act, amongst many other things, superseded the founding Rights of Way Act 1932.

Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981

This Act imposed a duty on Local Authorities for functions relating to land.

Town and Country Planning Act 1990

This Act regulates the development of land.

Disability Discrimination Act 1995 & 2005

These Acts relate to having to have regard for people in respect of their disabilities.

Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000

This Act created Access Land, founded Local Access Forums and made various amendments to Public Rights of Way.

Natural Environment & Rural Communities Act 2006

This Act limits the recording of public vehicular highways on the Definitive Map

Further information on these Acts can be found at legislation.gov.uk (external link).

Local Access Forum

The LAF is basically an oversight committee made up of members of the public (NOT council employees / elected members), selected to give a good cross-section of those affected by Rights of Way or its legislation; they advise us on how to best improve public access and the enjoyment of the area, whilst also considering land management and conservation duties and responsibilities.

Liability to path users

Owners and occupiers of land crossed by Public Rights of Way can be liable for injuries caused to path users by the negligence of the owner or occupier. For example, if a stile were to collapse under a walker, or if a path user were to be injured by an electric fence placed across a path, then the injured party may pursue a claim against the occupier of the land.

Maintenance

This Department has a duty to maintain the surface of a path to a standard suitable for the passage of foot and horse traffic only and includes the control of surface vegetation (this does not include cultivated crops). This Department is also responsible for signing paths from surfaced highways and waymarking the path as appropriate. See Rights and Responsibilities for more information.

The landowner or occupier is responsible for controlling side and overhead vegetation to ensure that it does not inhibit the use of Public Rights of Way. Even though we generally both provide and install stiles, gates, and anything else necessary to make the path reasonably navigable, landowners still have a duty under Highway Law to maintain stiles and gates on a footpath or bridleway in good order.

We use a system of priority when choosing which works to carry out on the network, this helps us plan work more effectively and get the most out of our limited budget.

Misleading signs and notices on Public Rights of Way

Misleading and unlawful signs can deter people from lawfully exercising their right to use paths and the Council has a duty to prevent such occurrences. Unofficial signs erected on a Public Right of Way can be removed by the Council. Unofficial signs affecting a Public Right of Way but on adjacent land can be dealt with on application to the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates may impose a fine or order the offender to remove the sign on pain of a continuing fine for each day it remains.

Misuse of network

A common complaint is the illegal use of motorbikes (or other mechanically propelled vehicle) on Rights of Way and Access land.

It is a complicated subject, but put briefly, on Public Rights of Way - even with the permission of the landowner - it may be illegal even if the vehicle is compliant with applicable regulations (e.g. insurance / tax / etc), and on Access land it is illegal unless you are on a route with existing vehicular rights. These are motoring offences so need reporting to the Police.

For bicycles on Rights of Way, put briefly, a cyclist who rides on a footpath commits trespass “against the holder of the land over which the path runs”, which is a Common law offence. Generally, you can ride on a footpath if you have the landowners' permission if you comply with certain provisions.

Please contact us for more information.

Obstructions

The Council has a lawful duty to remove all obstructions and encroachments to Public Rights of Way. The Council also has a common law right to remove anything that it believes constitutes an obstruction, danger or encroachment without consultation with any other party.

Depending on the circumstances, offenders are normally given 7 days to comply with informal notice being sent in writing. If after that period the offender has failed to comply, formal legal notice is served requiring the offender to remove the obstruction within a specified time. Upon expiry of that time the Council will remove the obstruction and recover costs from the landowner.

Permissive Paths

If a landowner wishes, they may create a permissive path - a route which the landowner permits the public to use - with the intention that it should not become a Public Right of Way.

Unofficial diversions of Public Rights of Way, made by landowners, can be regarded as permissive paths, but if certain procedures are not followed the new route may in time become a Public Right of Way.

Ploughing on Public Rights of Way

In some circumstances occupiers of land are entitled to plough Public Rights of Way if it is not reasonably convenient to avoid them. This only applies to cross-field Public Footpaths and Public Bridleways. All field edge Public Rights of Way and cross-field Byways should never be ploughed.

Where a cross-field Public Footpath or Public Bridleway is ploughed it must be reinstated within 14 days for the first disturbance (then 24 hours for any further disturbance), otherwise a criminal offence is committed. Reinstatement means indicating it on the ground and making the surface reasonably convenient for public use to not less than the statutory minimum width. In respect of Public Footpaths the minimum width is 1m and 2m for Public Bridleways.

Promoted routes

WCBC currently have 23 promoted routes which total 367 km in length. These have a higher priority maintenance status than other paths across the county.

Shooting / Fires

Landowners / occupiers may shoot on land with Public Rights of Way running across them provided that they do not endanger or intimidate users of the Right of Way. If a highway carries vehicular rights is an offence to discharge a firearm within 50 feet of the centre of it. Either instance would be a police matter.

It is an offence to light any fire on or over a highway with vehicular rights on, or on any land if it prevents the use of a Public Footpath or Bridleway.

Stiles and gates on Public Footpaths and Public Bridleways

It is the duty of the landowner to ensure that any stiles and gates are kept in a good state of repair. The Council's duty only extends to ensuring that the landowner complies with this obligation and to provide a grant of 25% towards repairing such structures, however we have a discretionary power to extend this grant and will, in normal circumstances, provide a 100% grant by arranging to carry out all the work at no cost to the landowner. This discretionary grant will be withdrawn if landowners fail to co-operate or are obstructing other Public Rights of Way.

If an occupier of land wishes to install additional gates on Public Footpaths or Public Bridleways they must apply in writing to the Council for authority to do so. Authority will not be given for any additional stiles. To erect stiles or gates without authority is an unlawful obstruction and is a criminal offence. The only circumstance for which the Council can provide authorisation for the erection of a new gate is that the structure is required to prevent the ingress or egress of animals onto agricultural land.

Stiles and gates cannot be erected for security or other purposes and may be regarded as obstructions to the highway. Additional gates cannot be erected on Byways.

Where a field gate crosses an enclosed Public Right of Way (e.g. a lane enclosed by hedges) it should remain unlocked even if there is a stile or gate alongside it. The locking of the field gate will generally be construed as an obstruction as the Right of Way it taken to be passing through the larger gate, not the adjacent stile.

There is an exception if the path leads directly to a vehicular highway and the locking of the field gate will prevent livestock escaping onto the road; no action will be taken in relation to the locking of the gate provided that an alternative means of access, such as a kissing gate or pedestrian gate, is provided alongside.

Strimming Rights of Way

Vegetation which grows from the surface of a Public Right of Way is this Departments responsibility to clear. Every summer (in the months of May, July and August), we strim and clear over 42km of paths.

Surfaces of Public Rights of Way

It is an offence to interfere with the surface of a Public Right of Way to the detriment of users. This means that a landowner / occupier may not dig up or resurface a Public Right of Way without the prior authorisation of the Council.

Widths of Public Rights of Way

There is no general rule applying to the width of Public Rights of Way and the width is a matter of fact to be determined on each occasion. The width may be set out in an historical document or it may be the width of the way between boundaries such as hedges or fences, alternatively the width may be that which the public have customarily enjoyed. The Council will require a reasonable width to be made available which would be sufficient for two users to pass.

In the case of a Public Footpath, this can be regarded as 2 metres, in the case of a Public Bridleway 3 metres, and in the case of a Restricted Byway or Byway Open to All Traffic, 4 metres.

An encroachment into the width of a Public Right of Way is an obstruction and a criminal offence; the Council will deal with encroachments accordingly.

Statutory default minimum widths apply to all Public Rights of Way but only in relation to ploughing and reinstatement following ploughing. These are as follows (see also ploughing and crops).

  Field edge Cross field
Public Footpath 1.5m 1m
Public Bridleway 3m 2m
Restricted Byway 3m 3m
Byway Open To All Traffic 3m 3m