Landowners' and managers' rights and responsibilities

Information on maintaining Public Rights of Way, including structures and fencing, definitive and permissive Rights of Way and public and private access.

1 Overview

The Countryside Code outlines the rights and responsibilities of landowners and managers with regard to Public Rights of Way that cross their land.

A summary of the guidelines given can be found on the following pages.

2 Animals

It is an offence to put an animal that is known to be dangerous in a field with a public right of way. The owner could be liable if it was to injure a member of the public.


It is permissible to keep certain breeds of bull in a field or enclosure crossed by a right of way. However, there are important exceptions and the following are not permissible:

  • bulls over 10 months old of a dairy breed
  • bulls over 10 months old of a beef breed, except when they are accompanied by cows or heifers.

Bulls of the following dairy breeds are not allowed in fields crossed by Public Rights of Way:

  • Ayrshire
  • British Friesian
  • British Holstein
  • Dairy Shorthorn
  • Jersey
  • Guernsey
  • Kerry.

Bull warning notices should only be displayed at an entrance to a field when a bull is present. At all other times the notice should be removed.


  • Dogs should not be allowed to intimidate path users such that passage along the route is effectively prevented.
  • Behaviour that constitutes a public nuisance includes snarling, barking in a threatening manner, running around and jumping up.
  • While dogs are allowed on enclosed land adjacent to the Public Right of Way, if their behaviour is deemed to be a nuisance, the landowner will be asked to alter the situation to stop this.
  • It is illegal for a dog known to be dangerous to be allowed to roam at large on any highway. If a dog causes an injury, the owner may be liable.

3 Building and buying near a right of way

  • All recorded Public Rights of Way are shown on the Definitive Map.
  • Planning permission alone does not allow a Right of Way to be obstructed or moved in any way - this includes construction works, which must not interfere with a Right of Way or pose any risk to path users.
  • If a diversion/extinguishment is necessary to enable a development to take place, an application for diversion should to made to the relevant planning authority well in advance of the start of the work.
  • All Public Rights of Way must remain open and available for public use at all times unless the relevant legal steps have been undertaken.
  • The temporary closure of a Public Right of Way is a legal process, and is done only where it is absolutely necessary and there is a danger to public safety that cannot be designed out.
  • Once any work is completed, the legal, definitive line of the Public Right of Way must be available for use on the ground.

For more information about the planning application process, and the process for permanent diversion or extinguishment of a public path required as a result of planning permission, contact the Planning Department at the relevant district or borough council, or South Downs National Park if within the South Downs National Park.

4 Definitive and permissive Rights of Way

The Definitive Map and Statement is the legal record of Public Rights of Way. Landowners must not deter use by the public in any way, for example by blocking the route, altering waymarkers or through the use of misleading or deterrent signs.

As a farmer or landowner, it is open to you to protect your land from claims to add used routes to the Rights of Way definitive map. Further information is on our Deposits under Section 31 (6) Highways Act 1980 page.

There are legal processes that must be completed if you want to make changes to the Public Rights of Way network that crosses your land.

In addition to any Public Rights of Way that cross your land, you may decide to create a new path, either formally or informally.

5 Ploughing and cropping

  • The occupier of agricultural land may disturb (for a limited time) the surface of a footpath or bridleway that crosses a field or enclosure, but only if it is necessary to do so.
  • You must not disturb or plough the surface if it is:
    • reasonably avoidable
    • a restricted byway, BOAT (Byway Open To All Traffic) or any other unsurfaced highway
    • a headland or field-edge path.
  • You may disturb a footpath or bridleway for excavation or engineering operations but only after gaining written permission from WSCC PROW Team.

Route reinstatement

  • After the surface of a footpath or bridleway has been disturbed, there is a duty to restore the legal line. This must be done:
    • within 14 days of the first disturbance in any cycle of cultivation
    • within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbances.
  • You may apply for an extension of up to 28 days if you know you will not be able to complete operations, for example, due to the weather or unusual nature of the works. An application must be received before the initial time allowed has expired.
  • If this is known before the works commence, apply in writing before starting. If it becomes apparent during the works, contact the Public Rights of Way Team as soon as possible.

Minimum legal width

  • Following disturbance, the surface of the path needs to be clearly reinstated so that it is reasonably convenient to use and apparent on the ground. This may include putting up signs to direct people across the land that has been disturbed.
  • Reinstatement must meet the following minimum width specifications, unless a different width is defined in the definitive map and statement:
    • cross-field footpaths = 1 metre
    • cross-field bridleways = 2 metres
  • There is a duty to prevent any crop, other than grass, from growing on or encroaching from the side, reducing the minimum width of any Public Right of Way - it may be more efficient to clear to a wider width to allow for crop growth.
  • Grass is defined to be any of the kind commonly used for pasture, silage or haymaking, but excludes all cereals, even if they are being grown for these purposes rather than as a cereal crop.


  • Failure to comply could result in the highway authority serving notice and undertaking the required works itself, when the County Council can recharge any incurred costs to the landowner or manager.
  • No more than 24 hours’ notice needs to be given by the County Council to carry out work, whether serving notice directly or posting it up on your land.

6 Public and private access

There is a distinction between public and private access rights, and these may coexist on the same route. The County Council does not hold a record of private access rights; you should seek your own legal advice to clarify if such rights exist.

It is an offence to drive unauthorised on a public footpath, public bridleway or restricted byway.

Private access rights can exist or be exercised in the following ways:

  • Private rights are often to allow individuals access to property or to undertake land management duties.
  • The mode of private access may be greater than the public right. For example, vehicles allowed over a footpath where only walkers have legitimate public right of access.
  • Landowners may give permission to allow a greater level of access along a Public Rights of Way, such as horse riding on a footpath.
  • The dedicated public right of access along a route would take precedence over any other permitted or private use.

Where a landowner has a right to use or allow use of Public Rights of Way for private access, the following considerations must be given:

  • The private right must not damage the surface of the Public Right of Way causing it to be unfit or inconvenient for use by the public.
  • Where damage or wear occurs as a result of the exercise of a private right, the landowner is liable to reinstate the surface of the path to at least the pre-existing standard.
  • A landowner wishing to undertake work to the surface of a Public Right of Way must first gain the consent of the County Council. A specification of the proposed new surface and the extent and type of work will need to be submitted. Such work may also require a temporary path closure.

7 Structures and fencing

A key objective for the highway authority is to improve access along Public Rights of Way, applying a policy of least restrictive access when considering an application for, or the replacement of, a structure across a Public Rights of Way.

In practice this means that:

  • existing structures are inspected to ensure that they are appropriate, in a good state of repair and meet structure specifications
  • where structures are found to be in disrepair it is normally the landowner's duty to repair them, and they may also be asked to replace them
  • we will refer to historical records to check if there is evidence of a structure in a specific location
  • our aim is to have a minimum necessary number of structures on the Rights of Way network and to progressively replace stiles.

The Highways Act 1980 places the responsibility of the maintenance of existing structures on Public Rights of Way with the landowner.

New structures

  • Applications for new structures need to be made to the County Council, and are only considered on the grounds of either stock control or user safety.
  • We will only consider applications for new stiles on rare occasions, as pedestrian and kissing gates offer a less restrictive access option for route users.


  • No fencing of any kind may be constructed to encroach into the width of a Public Right of Way. Please consult with the PROW Team before constructing any fences adjacent to the Right of Way.
  • Warning signs must be displayed at regular intervals where electric fencing is used. If a temporary electric fence needs to cross the line of a public footpath, insulated handles must be provided to allow people to pass through and continue along the legal line of the path.
  • Electric fencing must not be installed across or adjacent to bridleways, restricted byways or byways open to all traffic as it presents a serious hazard to horses.
  • Barbed wire should be covered, or barbs removed, near structures such as stiles and gates.
  • Where it is alongside a Public Right of Way, barbed wire should be fixed on the far side of the posts, facing away from the path. It would be good practice to fix non-barbed wire to the path side of the post to reduce the possibility of path users coming into contact with the barbs.
  • Barbed wire, or any other metal structure that is not part of a fence (for example, handrail on a bridge), should not be electrified.

Supporting documents

8 Trees and vegetation

  • Information for tree owners about ash dieback and how its impact is managed.
  • If you are a farmer or landowner, the information on wild plants on the GOV.UK website will tell you which wild plants you need to take action against and watch out for, and which ones you must protect.
  • Landowners and managers are responsible for the maintenance of side vegetation, such as hedges and trees, on or by the side of a Public Right of Way, to ensure that it does not encroach onto the public path.
  • Any necessary surface vegetation clearance, which is the responsibility of the County Council, is assessed during the routine inspection cycle.
  • When a tree or branch has come down on a Public Right of Way it is the landowner/manager’s responsibility to clear the debris.
  • If works need to be undertaken on a tree, a Temporary Path Closure needs to be in place; check to ensure the trees concerned are not subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO).
  • Any branches overhanging a Public Right of Way should not obstruct users, and have a minimum height clearance of 3.75 metres on bridleways.
  • Enquiries can be made to establish ownership of trees with the relevant parish or district council or by contacting the Land Registry.
  • Where a tree/overhanging branches present an immediate hazard to path users, contact the Public Rights of Way Team.
Last updated:
20 January 2023
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