Public Rights of Way
Beloved by ramblers, but often less popular with landowners, public rights of way (or PROWs) are a common feature of agricultural land. If you own land that is crossed by a PROW, you need to be aware of your rights and responsibilities in relation to it.
What is a PROW?
A PROW is a right enjoyed by the general public to cross land. They are not to be confused with private rights of way, which are enjoyed by occupiers of specific parcels of neighbouring land.
PROWs fall into four categories according to what use is permitted:
- Footpaths – for use by pedestrians
- Bridleways – for use by pedestrians and cyclists, as wells as horse and rider
- Restricted byways – for use by all traffic apart from mechanically propelled vehicles
- Byways open to all traffic – for use by pedestrian, cyclist, horse and vehicles however propelled
Unlike private rights of way, PROWs are not registered against the landowner’s title. Instead, the Local Authority maintains a record of PROWs called the Definitive Map. However, not all PROWs are included: a PROW’s absence on its Definitive Map is sadly not conclusive proof that it does not exist.
If your land is crossed by a PROW then you have certain obligations in relation to it.
The responsibility of maintaining the footpath, bridleway or byway is shared between the Local Authority, the Highways Agency and you as the landowner. If the PROW passes through gates or stiles, responsibility for maintaining these falls to the landowner. However, the landowner can recoup 25% of the cost from the Local Authority.
It is an offence to obstruct a PROW. Landowners have a duty to ensure that the PROW is free from obstruction and to ensure that vegetation other than grass does not encroach onto the path.
Crops and Cultivation
There is also a restriction on cultivation of the land over which a PROW runs. In the case of byways, there is a complete prohibition on cultivation. There is a similar restriction on footpaths and bridleways which run along a field’s edge. In this case, the strip which you must leave undisturbed for footpaths and bridleways is 1.5m and 3m respectively.
If you have a cross-field footpath or bridleway, it can be difficult to avoid ploughing over it. Your responsibility is to make sure that it remains visible to a width of 1m for footpaths and 2m for bridleways. If you do plough over the footpath or bridleway, you should make good any damage caused within 14 days of the disturbance if you are sowing crops, and within 24 hours in all other cases.
Livestock The purpose of a PROW is to allow the public to pass across the land. Anything that could be a danger to the public is best kept away from these areas.
There are limitations on what livestock can be kept in a field that is subject to a PROW. It is an offence to keep a bull older than 10 months and of a recognised breed in any such field. Recognised breeds are Ayrshire, British Friesian, British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey, and Kerry. Bulls of other breeds may be kept in a field provided they are kept with other cows or heifers.
Effect on Development
The potential impact of development on a PROW will be a material consideration for the purposes of determining an application to develop land. For example, the Local Authority will consider the possibility of increased traffic along the PROW as a result of the proposed development. It is a good idea to consult the PROW Officer and any relevant user groups from an early stage of your application process. For more information on rights of way contact Ceri Stephens on 01935 846194 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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