Questions about public rights of way

What is a public right of way?
Who has priority on a right of way?
Illegal use of motorcycles.
Who owns a right of way?
Who is responsible for maintaining paths?
What signs are permissible on rights of way?
What are the rules concerning dogs on rights of way?
Can a farmer erect a sign saying 'Danger - bull in field'?
Can a farmer plough up a right of way?
Can a landowner fence off a right of way from the adjacent land?
Who do I contact if I encounter a problem with rights of way?

What is a public right of way?

A public right of way is a route which anyone has the right to pass along without hindrance or obstruction. In law, public rights of way are highways which are subject to the same legal protection as any other public highway.

Public rights of way are classified according to the type of use which is permitted on them:

  • Public footpath - a way for use only by walkers.
  • Public bridleway - a way for use by walkers, horses and cycles.
  • Byway Open to All Traffic [BOAT] - a way which carries vehicular rights but which is used mainly by walkers, horses and cycles.
  • Restricted Byway - a way for use by walkers, horses and cycles, as well as non-mechanically propelled vehicles.

The use of motor vehicles is not permitted on public footpaths, bridleways and restricted byways. 

Who has priority on a right of way?

All legitimate users have an equal right to use a right of way but, on mixed-use paths, the following rules apply:

  • Horses give way to pedestrians;
  • Cycles give way to both horses and pedestrians.

It is the responsibility of anyone using a public right of way to do so sensibly and with due regard for other users. 

Illegal use of motorcycles

Motorcycles and quad bikes are not allowed on public footpaths and bridleways, nor on any other countryside site or public open space. The illegal use of motorcycles in the countryside and on rights of way is both a nuisance and a danger to other users.

We work together with the police to tackle the existing problem and to prevent it from occurring in the future. Any incidents involving motorcycles on rights of way or other countryside sites should be reported both to us and to the police.

Who owns a right of way?

Many public rights of way run across private land, but the ownership of the land does not affect the public's right to use the path. No-one can prevent the use of a right of way simply because they own the land which it crosses.

Even on private land, we can be assumed to own the surface of the path and the ground immediately beneath.  

Who is responsible for maintaining paths?

It is our responsibility to ensure that all rights of way are open and available for use by the public. In doing this, we have to make sure that landowners do not obstruct or divert paths illegally, or do anything else to discourage the legal use of a path such as erecting misleading signs or ploughing up a path.

We are responsible for maintaining the surface of a path, for example, keeping it well drained or free of vegetation. Any vegetation which encroaches from the sides of a path is the responsibility of the landowner.

Path furniture such as stiles and gates should be maintained by the landowner although, in practice, we frequently undertake this work to ensure that such structures are safe and easy to use.

We are responsible for signing and waymarking paths, to ensure that a route will be obvious to users in normal conditions.

What signs are permissible on rights of way?

Any sign which gives information about the route and is not misleading is permissible. For example, a sign saying "Footpath this way" and indicating the legal line of the path is acceptable. However, a sign on a cross-field path which says "Please walk round edge of field" is not acceptable as this is discouraging the public from using the legal line of the path. However, a sign reading "Alternative route around edge of field" would be acceptable because it implies that the legal route is still available for use.

Signs such as "Please keep your dog under control" or "Please do not allow your dog to foul the farmland" are permissible, but a sign saying "Dogs to be kept on leads" is not enforceable.

What are the rules concerning dogs on rights of way?

Dogs can be taken on rights of way but they must be kept under close control at all times. There is no rule requiring owners to keep dogs on leads when using rights of way, but common sense would dictate this when passing near livestock.

Dogs should not be allowed to roam across any land adjacent to a right of way, nor should they be allowed to foul either the right of way or any adjacent land.

Particular care should be taken when passing horses or cycles on a right of way as serious accidents can be caused by uncontrolled dogs in these circumstances.

Anyone who keeps a dangerous or intimidating dog on a right of way which deters the legal use of the path is both illegally obstructing the path and committing a criminal offence. Any incidents involving dangerous dogs encountered on rights of way should be reported to the police.

Can a farmer erect a sign saying 'Danger - bull in field'?

No. The rules governing the keeping of bulls on or near rights of way are designed to ensure that the public are not endangered when using a right of way through a field which contains a bull. Any sign which implies that someone using the path might be in danger is misleading and is therefore considered to be an illegal obstruction.

A bull can be kept on land crossed by a right of way only if:

  • It is not of a recognised dairy breed, for example, Friesian, Holstein, Jersey, or;
  • It is not more than 10 months old, or;
  • It is accompanied by female cattle.

Can a farmer plough up a right of way?

A right of way which runs across an arable field can legally be ploughed up, but it must be reinstated within 14 days. Arable crops should not be allowed to grow on a right of way or overhang it from the sides. The minimum width of a cross-field path on arable land should be 1 metre for a footpath and 2 metres for a bridleway.

Paths along the edges of fields should never be ploughed. The minimum widths for field-edge paths are 1.5 metres for a footpath and 3 metres for a bridleway. This should be the usable width of the path, and not include hedgerows, banks or ditches. 

Can a landowner fence off a right of way from the adjacent land?

The public right of way exists only along the line of the path and not on the adjacent land. Therefore it is permissible for a landowner to erect a fence along a path to separate it from the land alongside. However, a minimum of two metres path width should be allowed and any barbed wire used should be attached to the field side of the posts. Electric fencing is not permissible alongside a right of way.

Who do I contact if I encounter a problem with a right of way?

Any problems encountered on public rights of way in Gateshead should be reported to us on Tel: 0191 433 3094.

Please give as much detail as possible, including:

  • location;
  • nature of the problem;
  • date and time if relevant;
  • names and contact details of anyone involved -including landowners.

Similarly, any landowners or farmers experiencing problems with rights of way across their land should contact us for advice and assistance.

Incidents involving dangerous dogs, illegal use of motorcycles or fly-tipping should also be reported to the police.

Contact us

Zoe Jones
Public Rights of Way Officer
Gateshead Council 
Civic Centre
Regent Street
Gateshead
NE8 1HH

0191 433 3094
zoejones@gateshead.gov.uk

 

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