Rights of Way / Footpaths

There’s nothing like a nice walk or ride in the countryside along your favourite path.
But what happens when that route is blocked, closed or even moved?

Join the Society

If you love the great outdoors and enjoying full access to your favourite open and green spaces, footpaths, bridleways and cycle routes, you should consider joining the Open Spaces Society.

As a member, you will enjoy many benefits, including the support of our expert team based at our head office in Henley-on-Thames. We have a casework policy to help us prioritise the charity's limited resources.

Depending on where you live, you may also have a local Open Spaces Society correspondent (our name for volunteer) who may be able to help you.

What are your rights when it comes to accessing the routes you know and love?

At Open Spaces Society, we are experts on all types of public rights of way and we can help you defend your local footpath if it’s under threat.

We can help you claim a path, remove a blockage, or lobby your highway authority. Read about our campaigning work for rights of way here.

We also have a network of dedicated volunteers known as local correspondents. They can help you in your local area.

What is a right of way?

A right of way is a path that anyone has the legal right to use on foot, and sometimes using other forms of transport.

  • Public footpaths are normally open only to walkers
  • Public bridleways are open to walkers, horse-riders and cyclists
  • Restricted byways are open to walkers, horse-riders, and drivers/riders of non-mechanically propelled vehicles (such as horse-drawn carriages and pedal cycles)
  • Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) are open to all classes of traffic including motor vehicles, though they may not be maintained to the same standard as ordinary roads.
Rydal Water, Cumbria

How can you protect your rights of way?

Whether it’s a local footpath or a path you’ve taken on holiday or on a day trip, we can help you protect it.

The most effective way for you to fight for your rights of way in England and Wales is to join the Open Spaces Society

As a member, you can count on the support of our expert team based at our head office in Henley-on-Thames. Here are some examples of cases where we have given guidance to individual, group or local authority members.

Depending on where you live, you may also have a local Open Spaces Society correspondent (our name for volunteer) who is consulted on all planning consultations that affect public rights of way.

Need help defending your local right of way?

Further resources about Rights of Way / Footpaths

  • Information on Highway Verges

    Along many of the highways of England and Wales are to be found strips of land open to the public.

  • Deregulation Act

    A small but important part of the act concerns public rights of way, and will take effect once the regulations and guidance have been completed.

  • Frequently Asked Questions: Rights of Way

    Common questions on rights of way 

  • Impassable paths

    We look at the different types of problem that makes paths impassable.

  • Claiming a Public Footpath

    It is possible to apply to include on the definitive map routes which have been used by the public, ‘as of right’ for twenty years.

  • Getting Decent Widths in Path Diversion Orders

    Our local correspondent & trustee, Chris Beney, encourages action

  • Parishes dealing with highway obstructions

    Town, parish and community councils are likely to take a strong proprietorial interest in their parish rights of way, and in their local highway network generally.

  • Highway verges - some practical points

    Additional information about encroachment, ownership, road widths, grazing, public rights and other topics.

  • Government Guidance - Public Access and Rights of Way in England

    Insider hacks: three Government publications that will help you to protect public access and rights of way.

  • A charter for England's open spaces

    Read our August 2020 charter for the promotion and protection of open spaces so that everyone in England can benefit.

  • What to do about overgrown paths

    Our recommended action if you happen to come across an overgrown path.

  • Requiring the highway authority to act on obstructed paths - section 130A of the Highways Act 1980

    What can you do if a path you use becomes obstructed, you report it to the highway authority and no action is taken?

  • Taking action on paths which are 'out of repair'

    A highway out of repair is one where the surface is defective or disturbed.

  • Taking Action

    The latest in our series of guidance notes about preserving unrecorded rights of way from extinguishment on the cut-off day, 1 January 2026, and challenging councils who have failed to make progress with definitive map change applications

  • The parish role in preparing the definitive map

    How parish councils made mistakes in preparing the first definitive map of rights of way (jointly published with the British Horse Society)

  • Local Access Forums: role of the local authority

    As a local authority or national park authority, find out what responsibilities you have for your LAF.

  • Local authority rights of way improvement plans

    As a local authority you must review your rights of way improvement plan every 10 years.

  • Authorising structures on rights of way

    Good practice guidance for local authorities on compliance with the Equality Act 2010

  • Path Paraphernalia

    Removing and improving path-paraphernalia

  • Restoring the Record

    Our former trustee, Phil Wadey, and his colleague Sarah Bucks have published the second edition of their book, Rights of Way – Restoring the Record

Our latest posts about rights of way

Battlemead Common photo Maidenhead Civic Society

Important missing link in Millennium Walk created at Maidenhead

The Millennium Walk, a joint project of Maidenhead Civic Society and East Berks Ramblers, is a valuable trail as it links Hurley with Maidenhead Riverside, connecting with the Thames Path National Trail at both ends and opens up several pleasant circular walks. From Pinkneys Green it follows the Boundary Walk, a signed walk that follow…
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Flooded bridleway in the Piddle Valley, Dorset

Piddle Valley bridleway

In the Piddle Valley, north of Dorchester in Dorset, a 2.5-mile bridleway has been a historic link between the three villages of Piddletrenthide, White Lackington, and Piddlehinton. Today it is in a parlous state. The Piddle Path Action Team writes of its efforts to restore it. The bridleway today is in places impassable for much…
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NEW Giving Green gift book bundles

We have partnered with Saraband, the Salford based award-winning independent publisher, as part of a Christmas fundraising initiative. The company represents authors who write about UK landscapes, wildlife, culture and folk traditions. Their titles cover fiction and non-fiction and have included a Booker Prize shortlist  entry, the Wainright Prize for nature writing and the Robert…
Read More
Chiswick Park

Budget does nothing for public access

We are deeply disappointed by the government’s budget, announced on 27 October.  We had hopes that it would fund more and better public access, in town and country, in recognition of the effect of the pandemic which has made everyone appreciate the value of outdoor recreation for health and well-being.  The government, in its flagship…
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