Public Rights of Way: Are you prepared?

As the sun starts to shine more people make use of the numerous public rights of way available across the countryside. Now is the perfect time to ensure that, as a landowner, you are on the correct side of the law both to stop unwanted complaints and prevent claims by third parties.

Gates, stiles and Fences

Public footpaths must remain ‘open and useable’, gates and stiles should be safe and easy to use. If a new gate or stile is required where one has not existed before, you will need to obtain authorisation from the local highway authority.

Gates which enclose livestock must be adequate to prevent escape. If the public have to pass through the gate, you may want to consider installing a stile or cattle grid. If an escape occurs due to a third party leaving a gate open and damage or injury is caused then the fault, and liability, still falls on the landowner.

Any fencing must be in accordance with the recorded dimensions on the definitive map. You will need to investigate this before construction.


It is an offence to allow a bull in a field over which a public footpath crosses, unless:

  1. The bull is under 10 months old; or
  2. Does not belong to a recognised dairy breed which is in a field in which cows or heifers are also enclosed.

Warning signs are an additional measure which can reduce any liability to a third party.

Footpath Maintenance

It is an offence to allow obstruction of a public footpath and bridleway, overhanging vegetation should be cut back.

Field-edge footpaths must always be a minimum of 1.5m wide (3m for bridleways) and must not be cultivated. A cross-field path can be disturbed but must be made good within 14 days of the first disturbance if a crop is being sown, or within 24 hours in other cases. The surface must be returned to a width of at least 1m for footpaths and 2m for bridleways.


If someone suffers an injury on a public right of way due to livestock you could be liable. Likewise, where a walker wanders away from the public right of way you may owe a higher duty of care because they are then classed as trespassers. Marking the path is therefore a way of assisting walkers.

If a risk is foreseeable, act to remove it and ensure you are safeguarded against it. It may prevent a costly claim in the future.

Katy Moss is a solicitor in the Property department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Suffolk.

Property Solicitors – for more information on our range of legal services, please call the team on 01473 611211 or email

This article previously appeared in County Life, 25th March 2017