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

Blackbushe aerodrome remains a common

We have welcomed the decision of the supreme court not to grant leave to appeal against a decision that Blackbushe aerodrome should remain registered as common land.   The aerodrome lies on Yateley Common in Hampshire. It was established as a temporary wartime measure.[1] It is now operated by Blackbushe Airport Limited (BAL). Yateley Common,…
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How to use MAGIC

Do you want to know about the location of sites of special scientific interest, the distance between two places on a road or footpath, registered common land boundaries or to measure the area of a plot of land – we could go on? But the answer is almost certainly to be found in MAGIC. MAGIC…
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Newly recorded track in Norfolk

2026 Guillotine for historic ways is abolished

We are delighted that the government is to scrap the 2026 deadline for recording historic paths in England.  This deadline has, for more than 20 years, threatened our unique path-network. The deadline meant that on 1 January 2026, public rights over thousands of paths, which are public highways but not yet recorded as such, or…
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Insider hacks: Public access and rights of way guidance the Government doesn’t want you to see

The Government has progressively reduced the amount of information available to the public on the web. Sometimes it has done this by rewriting guidance so that it is easier to understand — but sometimes it has just removed guidance altogether, either because it thinks there is insufficient interest, or because no-one is left to update…
Read More
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