Rights & Responsibilities
What your rights and responsibilities are as a path user or landowner, and what WCBC should do.
Once a Right of Way has come into existence it continues indefinitely and can only be brought to an end or amended by the use of statutory legal procedures for altering a Public Right of Way. Section 56 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) makes it clear that the Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way is conclusive evidence as to what it contains.
Lack of use over a period of time does not mean that the rights have disappeared. For further information see Definitive Map.
When using Public Rights of Way, it is important to follow the Countryside Code of Conduct. You can view the Countryside Code leaflet (external link)
Right to deviate from a Public Right of Way
You may only make a short deviation from the Right of Way in order to get around an illegal obstruction erected by the landholder. This right to deviate does not necessarily allow you to enter land owned by another person. It is considered reasonable for a path user to use a pair of pocket secateurs to cut back vegetation which impedes progress along a path.
It is an offence to leave a dairy bull over the age of ten months at large in a field crossed by a Public Right of Way or land with public access. Similarly, any other breed of bull over 10 months old should not be left at large unless accompanied by cows or heifers (if the temperament of any bull is questionable, they should not be left at large in a field crossed by a Right of Way or land with public access). Recognised dairy breeds are Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry.
The Health and Safety Executive recommends that signs should be displayed at each access point, noting that a bull is in the field. These signs should be removed or securely covered when the bull is taken from the field.
You must not allow crops, including grass, to grow on or overhang the minimum width of any Right of Way, so as to inconvenience the public or prevent the line of the Right of Way from being apparent on the ground. Failure to keep a path clear may result in users deviating from the path which may cause greater crop damage in the long run and will result in action being taken against you.
Any dog whilst on or directly adjacent to a Public Right of Way and, by its 'threatening behaviour', prevents users from using the path constitutes a public nuisance and is, therefore, considered to be an obstruction. 'Threatening behaviour' may include snarling or running around the path user barking in a threatening manner. Landowners and occupiers must ensure that such dogs are kept under proper control when in the vicinity of a Public Right of Way.
Dangerous animals generally
The keeper of an animal may be liable to be prosecuted if it injures a user. Landowners and occupiers are advised to ensure that any animal which they know to have a tendency to be aggressive is not kept in a field with a Public Right of Way running through it.
It is an offence for anyone to place a notice on or near a Public Right of Way which is likely to deter people from using it. Failure to comply may lead to prosecution.
Landowners and occupiers should refrain from obstructing any Public Right of Way on their land. Failure to do so will result in WCBC taking action against them.
The landowner or occupier has a duty to lop or cut back side growth and overhanging vegetation to ensure that the use of Public Rights of Way is not impeded.
Paths across fields may only be cultivated if there is no reasonable alternative. The surface of the path must be made good, so that it is reasonably convenient to use within 14 days of the first disturbance and within 24 hours of any subsequent works. More information about minimum / maximum widths.
You must not plough or disturb the surface of footpaths and bridleways at the edge of the field or any byways. Failure to comply will result in action being taken against you.
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.
Stiles and gates
Landowners have a duty under Highways laws to maintain stiles and gates on a footpath or bridleway in good order, however we have a discretionary power to, in normal circumstances, carry out all the work at no cost to the landowner.
Landowners and / or occupiers should obtain the consent of WCBC before erecting a new stile or gate on a Public Right of Way.
Surfacing a Right of Way
A landowner and / or occupier should get in touch with us before altering the surface of a Public Right of Way. Failure to do so may result in the surface having to be reinstated at the cost of the landowner and / or occupier.
- Maintaining and controlling natural vegetation on the surface of the path suitable for the passage of the path user depending on the path status. This is distinct from cultivated crops (see Ploughing and Cropping).
- Administering the law concerning Rights of Way and ensuring that the gates and stiles can be used by the public.
- To signpost and waymark its Public Rights of Way as appropriate.
- To keep the Definitive Map and Statement under continuous review and available for public inspection.