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

Open Spaces Society to advise Welsh Access Reform Group

The Welsh Government is looking at the future of access in Wales, following the consultation in 2017 and the subsequent announcement that it would set up an Access Reform Group. It has also established three expert groups to inform the Access Reform Group and invited expressions of interest. We are delighted to report that the…
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Paul Clayden, 5 November 1941 – 1 January 2020

We are very sad to report that our vice-president, Paul Clayden, died suddenly aged 78 on new year’s day.  A former general secretary of the society (1976-84) he was the author of many of our books and information sheets, and a kind and helpful adviser to members on their open space issues. Paul was born…
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Is your DMMO application eligible for a BHS grant?

Are you engaged in researching historical ways to add to the definitive map before the 2026 cut-off date? The British Horse Society (BHS) is offering a bounty of £100 to anyone who applies to a local authority to record a bridleway, restricted byway or byway open to all traffic — or to upgrade a footpath…
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We back campaign for access to water

The society is backing the Clear Access, Clear Waters campaign by British Canoeing, to increase the public’s opportunities to gain access to water. The campaign aligns with the society’s objectives of promoting public enjoyment of rivers, canals and lakes, whether in or on the water or providing access to it. British Canoeing is campaigning for…
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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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