There are four categories of Rights of Way:
FOOTPATH - a right of way of foot only.
BRIDLEWAY - a right of way on foot, on horseback or leading a horse.
BYWAY - a right of way open to all traffic, whether on foot, horseback in or on vehicles, pedal cycles etc. (Although the definitive map does not show all roads you can drive along).
ROAD USED AS A PUBLIC PATH [RUPP] - a right of way on foot, on horseback or leading a horse.
Public Rights of Way are identified on special maps Known as:
The Definitive Map - a legal record of the four public rights of way.
The Definitive Map is accompanied by the DEFINITIVE STATEMENT:
This describes each right of way in some detail, and may indicate
position, width, limitations or conditions that apply to each right of way.
Each Definitive Map and Statement has a RELEVANT DATE:
This is the date of the Definitive Map and Statement at which time
the various rights of way shown on the Map and described in the Statement are
evidenced as being in existence. Any amendments to routes etc will be given a
new Relevant Date.
Both the Definitive Map and Statement are available for Public Inspection:
These are usually available at the Council offices. You should
contact the Footpaths Officer initially to establish where the plans may be
inspected. Some main libraries hold copies and the Ordnance Survey base their
Landranger (1:50,000) maps and Pathfinder (1:25,000) maps, on information
supplied from the Definitive maps. (Although the latter are not legally
The Definitive Maps and Statements may not indicate ALL existing Rights of Way or the full extent of those already identified:
There may be
circumstances not yet recorded which would alter the status of an existing
Right of Way. The Maps and Statements are therefore legal statements of the
rights that exist at the particular RELEVANT DATE applied to those maps and
A Public Right of Way is created:
By means of a Public path Creation Order under the Highways Act 1980,
By means of an Inclosure Award,
Or more commonly,
by Dedication of the Right to the public by the Landowner. This is either EXPRESS
(ie a deliberate creation) or PRESUMED, based upon historical evidence and the
actions or inaction of the landowner during the RELEVANT PERIOD.
Presumed Dedication: is achieved in two ways;
Under S.31 of the Highways Act 1980 - where it can be proven that there has been over 20 years uninterrupted use by the public in the belief that they were using a right of way. I.e. without the permission of the landowner.
The 20 year period is counted back from the date on which the public's right was first brought into question by some action - say erecting a gate or fence across the path. Subsequent use from that date is not counted.
At Common Law
- where the burden of proof is on a person to prove that the landowner intended
to dedicate a public right of way. There is no time limit and the period of use
can range from a few years to several decades.
The 20 year
period can be contradicted by evidence that there was no intention by the
landowner to dedicate a right of way over the land. This could be
established in a number of ways, ranging from signs along the route, to the
physical closing of gates from time to time, with indication that the intention
was to indicate that no public right of way exists.
Modifications to the definitive map are carried out by means of a DEFINITIVE MAP MODIFICATION ORDER under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
Anyone may make a request for a modification order to be issued by way of a formal application. Evidence is the key to achieving any change, and this will be assessed by the authority and tested through public inspection and perhaps inquiry.
The authority may act on the evidence even without a formal application if they think the evidence is sufficient, although the public consultation procedure will still apply.
YOU SHOULD CONSULT YOUR LOCAL AUTHORITY ON MATTERS CONCERNING PUBLIC RIGHTS OF WAY.