Draft RoW Policy Jan 2016

Policy Area: Rights of way and other paths


  • The rights of way network—public footpaths, bridleways, and byways—which extends for more than 140,000 miles across England and Wales, is a priceless national asset. It provides vital opportunities for people to exercise, unwind and enjoy the natural environment. This network also plays an important role in supporting tourism and the local businesses which depend upon it, and is an integral part of the public transport network, both for walkers, horse riders and cyclists, and for the connections it provides to onward routes.
  • Legislation is in place to protect public rights of way (which are legally classified as highways), but decades of underfunding, coupled with recent severe budget reductions have seriously reduced highway authorities’ capacity to carry out their statutory maintenance and enforcement duties, causing many paths to fall into poor condition or even become unusable. In addition, many historic paths which are not legally recorded face extinguishment in 2026; the process of recording them onto definitive maps is being streamlined in order to speed this up but this could be undermined by budget cuts to the local authorities carrying out the work.
  • Significant political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental changes are occurring which are profoundly affecting how the path network is maintained and how people relate to it. This includes deregulation, devolution and a general rolling back of the State, as well as budgetary pressures, urbanisation and disconnection from the natural environment. At the same time, the benefits of walking in natural spaces are now widely recognised, and rights of way and other paths can play a vital role in unlocking those benefits.
  • The Ramblers has long campaigned to keep paths open and in good use through path monitoring and campaigning, as well as practical path maintenance. This year we committed to a new 10-year ambition to create a country designed for walking and a new strategy to enhance, improve and protect paths through monitoring, enhancing and building support for paths and walking

Policy & advocacy officer: Janet Davis

Workstream / priority level:

Protecting public rights of way / high priority


Monitoring the network and ensuring that changes benefit walkers

  • Maintenance: Paths should be kept in good repair and free from obstructions, including crops, and restored after ploughing. Gates and stiles should be kept in proper repair to ensure the safe passage of walkers, and should comply with the least restrictive option principle. Rights of way should be signposted and waymarked in accordance with the law, and other paths to which the public has access should be adequately signed.

  • Legislation: The law must continue to protect rights of way from arbitrary or unsuitable diversion or closure, with determination of objections by an impartial tribunal, as now by the Planning Inspectorate. The permanent closure of rights of way over level crossings should be a matter of last resort, when there are no other reasonable means of improving safety.

  • Other users: The use of motorcycles and four-wheel drive vehicles on unsealed rights of way is incompatible with quiet enjoyment of the countryside and damages path surfaces; further controls on such use are needed. In many places the bridleway network is inadequate for users on horseback and pedal cycle, leading to those users utilising footpaths, however the case for their upgrading to bridleway or cycle track status must be considered on a case-by-case basis, not by way of a universal conversion. Conflict with other users should be mitigated means of traffic regulation orders or byelaws.

  • Promoted routes: England and Wales’s 15 National Trails, the gold standard of walking routes, should be managed through the establishment of a National Trails Trust, a charitable body which would work to improve the entire National Trails network.

Enhancing the network (creating new paths and rediscovering ‘lost ways’)

  • Infrastructure and planning: Healthy lifestyle and low-carbon transport agendas should ensure that provision for walking is an integral part of the planning process at both local and national level. Paths affected by development should, wherever possible, be retained as motor traffic-free routes, and where new roads sever rights of way, safe and convenient crossings should be provided.

  • New rights of way: Paths should be created to improve the network both in the countryside and in towns and cities, for example to take walkers away from busy roads with no footways. Schemes such as ‘Paths for Communities’ which used ring-fenced money from the Rural Development Programme for England to create paths should be further pursued. Permissive or concessionary paths which a landowner permits the public to use1 serve a useful purpose where there is no possibility of claiming a public right of way or securing an agreement to create one. Any permissive access which is publicly funded must be fully publicised.

  • Unrecorded public rights of way: All public rights of way (including unrecorded ones that have fallen into disuse, through long obstruction in previous centuries) should be shown on the definitive map and statement, as required by law.

Valuing the path network (working with local authorities to build support for paths and walking)

  • Funding the path network: Sufficient national and local funds should be made available to ensure that local authorities’ statutory duties can be complied with. Local highway authorities must give higher priority investment in public paths, exploring and utilising sources of funding other than the public purse (council tax and central government support ), as well as new streams of public money via Local Enterprise Partnerships, Local Nature Partnerships, and Community Health Partnerships, and the reform of agri-environment schemes (including existing cross-compliance requirements).

  • Promoting the network: Government, working through its advisor, Natural England, and the voluntary sector, needs to develop an understanding of walkers experience and how they interact with the path network and what the barriers to use are. Other bodies (public, quasi-public and private) should be encouraged to play a role to play in promoting paths (eg tourist information centres, train operating companies, local business consortia). There should be a free, accessible and up to date digital map of all public rights of way.

  • Supporting volunteers: People should be encouraged and properly supported to carry out maintenance work on paths in a voluntary capacity. Local authorities and the voluntary sector need to establish a national protocol clearly defining how this work is managed, training, the provision of tools and adequate insurance.

Key background information

A charitable objective of the Ramblers is to promote, encourage or assist in the provision and protection of footpaths and other ways over which the public have a right of way or access on foot, including the prevention of obstruction of public rights of way.

Reason/s for producing / updating policy

There has not been a comprehensive re-appraisal of Ramblers policy on public rights of way for more than thirty years. Radical changes in local government, the funding of public services, far reaching changes in society’s attitudes to, and use of, the countryside, as well as rapid changes in technology mean that a review is essential.

Ramblers supporting documents

  • Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Ramblers’ Association

  • Ramblers Business Plan 2014-2016

  • The Ramblers: a path to follow Our vision and strategic framework 2015–2025

  • Public benefit statement

  • A country designed for walking: Paths, access and urban green space strategy for England and Wales

Work undertaken by Ramblers Areas and Groups

Most of the work the Ramblers work to protect and enhance public rights of way is undertaken by volunteers via our area and group network. Aside from leading group walks this is probably the largest area of work undertaken by our volunteers. The work is extensive, varied and far reaching and includes:

  • reporting path problems to local authorities (e.g. blocked paths, missing signs, broken stiles) and helping to resolve them, sometimes by way of casework but also by undertaking practical work

  • inspecting proposed changes to the footpath network (path diversions, path closures) and responding to them where necessary via casework.

  • undertaking research into unrecorded paths and claim them for addition to the definitive map so ensuring that walkers are able to make use of them in perpetuity.

  • campaigning locally and meeting with MPs and local politicians to make the case for paths and walking.at, as well as participating in national campaigns.

Further information

On the gov.uk website:


The IPROW (Institute of Public Rights of Way and Access Management) Good Practice Guide:


Last reviewed: ?? 2016 Janet Davis, Senior Policy Officer

1 These are not public rights of way and do not carry the protection of the law.