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?

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.

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?

Our latest posts about rights of way

Welsh government allows closure of some paths and access land

The Welsh government has introduced emergency legislation which enabled certain bodies to close identified public paths and access land because they create a risk of spreading coronavirus. The bodies had to close the paths by noon on 25 March 2020. The bodies (known as ‘relevant bodies’) entitled to do this are: county or county borough…
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We help save important cheshire footpath

We are delighted to have helped to save 800 metres of footpath in the lovely Todd valley, between Kettleshulme and Rainow in Cheshire East, from being expunged from the official (definitive) path map. Mrs Marie Cunningham applied on behalf of the landowner to Cheshire East Council to have the path removed from the official map. …
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Cornish common restored

Thanks to the painstaking research of our commons re-registration officer in Cornwall, Tomas Hill, we have restored six hectares to the commons register.  The land is at Trevellion Moor, on the west side of Bokiddick Downs and Lowertown Moor, a kilometre west of Helman Tor and three kilometres north of Luxulyan.  The land consists of…
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Government plans could make innocent trespassers into criminals

The government’s proposals to strengthen police powers against trespass could make criminals of innocent people visiting the countryside.  We have expressed this fear in our response to the Home Office consultation on the criminalisation of trespass in England and Wales. The Conservative manifesto declared ‘We will make intentional trespass a criminal offence.’  Before this, the…
Read More

Further resources about Rights of Way / Footpaths

  • 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

    Our local correspondent & trustee, Chris Beney, encourages 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.

  • Frequently Asked Questions: Rights of Way

    Common questions on rights of way 

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • What to do about overgrown paths

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

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