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

  • Frequently asked questions: Rights of way

    Here you'll find the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about paths and rights of way.

  • 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.

  • 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

    Some slightly random thoughts on the matter to encourage action.

  • Information on Highway Verges

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Requiring the highway authority to act on obstructed paths

    This information sheet provides details about what you can do if a path you use becomes obstructed.

  • Taking action on paths which are ‘out of repair’

    Making an application under section 56 of the Highways Act 1980

  • Parish role in preparing the definitive map

    Mistakes in the preparation of the first definitive map of rights of way.

  • Taking action

    Challenging councils who have failed to make progress with definitive map change applications

  • What local councils can do for public access to town and countryside

    Our information sheet sets out how local councils can go about protecting and caring for the commons, greens, other open spaces, and paths in their areas. 

  • 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

  • What to do about overgrown paths

    Our recommended action if you come across an overgrown path.

  • Opposing extensions to temporary traffic regulation orders

    This information sheet explains how you may object to the extension of temporary traffic regulation orders. 

  • Impassable Paths

    We look at the different types of problems which make paths impassable.

  • Charter for Open Spaces in England

    Our charter to protect open spaces for the future

  • Paths or open spaces under threat? A problem solved

    We share our experience of defending public access to paths and open spaces

Our latest posts about rights of way

User groups save Gloucestershire highway 

A precious public ‘green road’ has been protected by user groups combining efforts to resist Gloucestershire County Council’s application to a magistrates’ court to extinguish public rights[1] over Hanover Green Road[2]  in the parish of Redmarley D’Abitot. Cheltenham magistrates found the track to be necessary for the public to use, particularly on foot and by…
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Coffey kowtows to landowners and destroys public-path consensus

We are dismayed that the environment secretary, Thérèse Coffey, has destroyed the 2010 consensus for the future of public paths. This consensus was forged by a stakeholder working group (SWG) set up to advise government. It is composed of experienced members reflecting the interests of users, local authorities, and landowners. Dr Coffey has cherry-picked from…
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We win recorded route in East Sussex 

We are celebrating the addition of a 2.3-kilometre restricted byway to the official map of public paths in East Sussex.  The route was claimed, based on historical evidence, by our local correspondent for Lewes, Chris Smith.    The path runs from Robin Post Lane in the north (to the west of the A27 between Hailsham and…
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Time for a new manifesto for public access

‘It is time for a new manifesto for public access in town and country,’ said Kate Ashbrook, our general secretary. Kate was giving the keynote speech at the event to mark the 91st anniversary of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout on 24 April 1932.  The celebrations were held at Hayfield village hall, Derbyshire, at…
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