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Rights of Way Responsibilities

View from Winter Hill taken from the Cookham Bridleway Circuit

Owners Rights & Responsibilities

Users' Rights & Responsibilities

The Council's Responsibilities

The Countryside Code

Owners' Rights & Responsibilities

  • Property Rights

A public right of way allows the public to pass over private land only along a fixed route. The owner can also use this land for activities such as work or recreation, as long as the private use does not interfere with the exercising if the public rights. A typical example is when a footpath follows a private access road which is used by the farmer and for farm vehicles, and by his children and their friends (with permission) for horse-riding.

  • Trespass

If a member of the public knowingly or unknowingly strays off a right of way onto land not belonging to them, against the owners' wishes and without the legal right to do so, they are trespassing. The land owner can ask them to leave or have them removed.

  • Worrying Livestock

It is an offence to allow a dog to attack or chase livestock. A landowner may shoot a dog that is apparently out of control and "worrying" livestock. If a dog injures a person or animal or damages property, the owner or person in charge of it at the time may be liable for damages.

  • Ploughing & Cropping

A properly re-instated cross-field pathThe landowner or occupier (such as a tenant farmer) has a right to "plough or otherwise disturb the surface" of a cross-field footpath or bridleway. This right only applies where it is not reasonably convenient to avoid disturbing the surface of the path or way. It is an offence to plough or disturb the surface of a "headland" (field edge) footpath or bridleway, and any RUPPs and byways.

After disturbing the surface of a footpath or bridleway, the farmer must make good the surface so that it is reasonably convenient to use, and ensure that the line is apparent on the ground. This must be done within 14 days of the first disturbance, unless a longer period has been first agreed, by writing, by the Highway Authority.

Crops, other than grass, must not be allowed to grow or overhang a right of way at any time, so as to obstruct or otherwise inconvenience the public or prevent the line of the right of way from being apparent on the ground.

For certain purposes the Rights of Way Act 1990 sets out "minimum widths" for public rights of way which apply if there is no width recorded, for example, in the Definitive Statement (The Rights of Way Act can be found by clicking here).

When ploughing or cultivating crops, the landowner or occupier must ensure that the minimum width is reinstated, remains clear of crops and is apparent on the ground. The minimum width for a footpath is 1m across the field or 1.5m on the field edge; for a bridleway it is 2m across the field or 5m on the field edge. These widths only apply to the law on ploughing and cropping and do not affect other aspects of the law on rights of way.

The Highway Authority can prosecute a landowner or occupier for failing to comply with the law. It can also carry out work it thinks is necessary (sometimes to a wider 'maximum' width) and recover its costs from them. Further advice is given in "The Rights of Way Act 1990" guidance notes available from Natural England at http://www.naturalengland.gov.uk.

  • Bulls

Occupiers may not, subject to certain important exceptions, keep bulls in fields crossed by public rights of way. The exceptions are bulls not more than 10 months old, or bulls which are not of a recognised dairy breed (currently defined as Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) and are accompanied by cows and heifers.

In practice, it may be difficult for a user to know whether a bull is likely to be dangerous or not, and farmers are asked, wherever possible, not to keep any bulls in fields crossed by rights of way. Sometimes, temporary electric fencing (suitably insulated at public crossing points) can segregate the public from the bulls. However, some people may still be deterred from using such paths.

  • Misleading Signs

View along Hurley Bridleway 22A landowner may not erect 'misleading' signs likely to deter people from using a right of way. For example, a sign "Private Road" placed on a track which is also a byway would be a misleading sign.

  • Intimidation

A landowner may not prevent the public from using a right of way by telling them to leave, threatening them, keeping a fierce dog on land crossed by a right of way, or by any other form of intimidation or harassment.

If this happens, please report it to the Public Rights of Way Team who will be able to help. A list of useful contacts can be found by clicking here.

  • Drainage and vegetation encroachment

Landowners must also keep vegetation from encroaching from their land across or above a right of way. This means that hedges and trees may need regular cutting. Inadequate drainage of adjacent land should not be allowed to adversely affect rights of way either.

Problems relating to any of the above should be reported to the Rights of Way Team. The report form can be found by clicking here.

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Users' Rights and Responsibilities

  • Consideration for others

Horses in a field

As you exercise your right to travel from place to place along a public right of way you are welcome to enjoy the countryside, but you must not damage it or the wildlife it supports. You may stop and rest and take refreshment, provided you stay on the path and do not cause obstruction or damage the highway. Remember that the countryside is a place where people live and work and that you should respect their rights by not deliberately disturbing them or their property. Also remember to take your litter home with you and to close gates behind you, especially when there are livestock in the fields.

  • Taking a dog

You may take your dog with you, provided it is kept on a lead or is otherwise effectively controlled and remains on the way and does not 'worry' livestock. If a dog injures a person, animal or property, the owner or the person in charge of the dog may be liable for damages.

  • Other 'accompaniments'

Prams, pushchairs and wheelchairs are permissible, but the condition of the way might not be appropriate for such use.

  • Unauthorised driving or riding

It is a criminal offence to drive a motor vehicle along a footpath or bridleway without lawful authority. You should not ride a horse or cycle on a footpath, unless you have the express permission of the owner of the way. Equally you should not drive off a right of way or park on private or common land without the landowner's permission. If you do not have permission, action may be taken against you for trespass. Reckless or dangerous driving on any right of way, having regards to the nature, condition or use of it, is also an offence.

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The Council's Responsibilities

The Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead Council's responsibilities are listed below:

  • To maintain and keep under review the Definitive Map of Rights of Way.
  • To display the Definitive Map in Council Offices, and to supply relevant extracts to Parish Councils.
  • To maintain the surface of rights of way including the control of natural vegetation growing on them.
  • To assist farmers and landowners with maintenance of approved stiles and gates.
  • To signpost footpaths, bridleways, byways and restricted byways where they leave a metalled road, and to carry out way-marking where necessary to help the public find their way.
  • To maintain most bridges crossed by rights of way.
  • To receive complaints and take appropriate action.
  • To assert and protect the rights of the public to use and enjoy rights of way.

Service Standards

We Will:

Liase with and involve:Users of the Knowl Hill Bridleway Circuit

  • Local Access Forum
  • Parish and Town Councils
  • Countryside Agency
  • Ramblers' Association
  • British Horse Society
  • British Driving Society
  • Cyclists' Touring Club
  • Sustrans
  • English Nature
  • Vehicle User Groups
  • National Farmers' Union
  • Country Land & Business Association
  • Thames Path Management Group
  • Any other interested parties.

Comply with British Standards on all new structures and furniture, and where possible, upon replacement of existing structures of furniture. BS5709-2006 gaps, gates and stiles; order of preference; a) gap, b) gate, c) kissing gate, d) stile.

Carry out:

  • A condition survey of each path every three years, based on a rolling programme of six-monthly surveys (in Partnership with East Berks. Ramblers' Association).
  • An inspection of rights of way in a dangerous condition within one working day of notification, make safe within one working day of inspection, and inform the correspondents of the results within three working days.
  • Local Access Forum
  • Parish and Town Councils
  • Countryside Agency
  • Ramblers' Association
  • British Horse Society
  • British Driving Society
  • Cyclists' Touring Club
  • Vehicle User Groups
  • National Farmers' Union
  • Country Land & Business Association
  • Thames Path Management Group
  • Any other interested parties.

Use our powers:

  • To enforce and remove any obstructions to the public rights of way network within three months of inspection, and enforce compliance with the Rights of Way Act 1990 (ploughing etc) within 6 weeks of inspection, and give consideration to all available statutory powers including prosecutions where appropriate.
  • To process uncontested applications for Public Path Orders and Definitive Map Modification Orders (claims) within 1 year of receipt.
  • To make legal event Modification Orders within 6 months of the confirmation of the legal event.
  • To inform the correspondents of the reasons for any delay beyond the periods stated above.


  • The Definitive Map and Statement every five years
  • Information leaflets and updates regularly

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The Countryside Code

A new Countryside Code has been launched in July 2004, following extensive consultation with the public and stakeholders carried out through the summer of 2003. The new Code is designed to reassure land managers as new public rights of access begin, and to make the public aware of their new rights and responsibilities across the whole countryside. More information about the Countryside Code can be found at http://www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk/

  • Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs

Even when going out locally, it's best to get the latest information about where and when you can go; for example, your rights to go onto some areas of open land may be restricted while work is carried out, for safety reasons or during breeding seasons.

Follow advice and local signs, and be prepared for the unexpected.

  • Leave gates and property as you find them

Please respect the working life of the countryside, as our actions can affect people's livelihoods, our heritage, and the safety and welfare of animals and ourselves.

  • Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home

We have a responsibility to protect our countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don't harm animals, birds, plants, or trees.

  • Keep dogs under close control

The countryside is a great place to exercise dogs, but it's every owner's duty to make sure their dog is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, wildlife or other people.

  • Consider other people

Showing consideration and respect for other people makes the countryside a pleasant environment for everyone - at home, at work and at leisure.

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