About Public Rights of Way
Norfolk County Council manages approximately 2,400 miles of Public Rights of Way consisting of footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic.
A Public Right of Way is a route over which the public have the right to pass and re-pass. All Public Rights of Way are highways and are protected by highway law and other legislation. The land over which the Public Right of Way runs is usually private land; the surface of the path is maintained by us as the highway authority, but the subsoil remains the property of the landowner.
We also manage the Norfolk Trails which include 11 long-distance paths and their associated circular walks.
Public Rights of Way can be found in towns, villages and the countryside.
Some paths may be surfaced and many are tracks across countryside owned by farmers and landowners. Public footpaths should not to be confused with pavements at the side of the road.
You may take a pushchair or wheelchair on any Public Right of Way but you may encounter stiles, gates and surfaces that limit access.
- Footpath - for use on foot only; there is no right to push a bicycle or lead a horse. Public footpaths are marked with a yellow arrow
- Bridleway - for use by horses, cyclists and on foot Cyclists must give way to pedestrians and horse riders. There is no right to use a horse-drawn vehicle. Public bridleways are marked with a blue arrow
- Restricted Byway - for use by carriage drivers (i.e. horse and cart), horses, cyclists and on foot. The public cannot use a restricted byway in a mechanically propelled vehicle such as motorbike and car. Restricted byways are marked with a burgundy arrow
- Byways Open to All Traffic - can be used by vehicular and other kinds of traffic, where suitable, but are used by the public mainly for walking or riding horses or cycles. Vehicles should give way to other users and comply with all driving regulations as for ordinary road traffic i.e. they must be taxed, insured and roadworthy. Byways Open to All Traffic are marked with a red arrow
- A Permissive (or concessionary) path - a path where the landowner gives permission for public use but with the intention that it does not become a Public Right of Way. A landowner can give also give permission for additional use (such as horses on a public footpath) but this only extends to people given specific permission. Permissive paths are not maintained by Norfolk County Council
- Green lanes - is a term often used to describe an unsurfaced route. The term has no legal meaning. Not all green lanes have Public Rights of Way on them
Public Rights of Way can often be on private tracks to property or fields.
While Public Rights of Way are protected and accessible to all, in most cases the surrounding land will be privately owned, often working farmland. The landowner may have private access rights, such as the right to use a tractor to access fields or by car to get to property.
Norfolk County Council does not deal with private rights unless there is conflict with a Public Right of Way.
Queries about private rights should be addressed to a solicitor.
If the access to a property is also a Public Right of Way, we may have some responsibility for its repair, but will only maintain it for the public use i.e. we cannot keep a track maintained to a suitable condition for vehicles if the public is only entitled to use it on foot or with horses.
Note - if other vehicles use the track, for example to collect the rubbish, this is still private use to provide a service to the property.
Those who need to use the track by vehicle will be responsible for maintaining the route to meet that need.
Some improvement works may need planning permission and the surface material will need to be suitable for the public use, for example horses can slip on tarmac surfaces.
You should consult us before carrying out any works on Public Rights of Way.
There is not a simple answer to this question.
The Definitive Statement occasionally specifies the width of a Public Right of Way. In the absence of this, there are a number of ways to determine the width, usually through historic use or documentary evidence or the legally set out minimum widths across cultivated land (Rights of Way Act 1990).
If there is any doubt, the width of a Public Right of Way can be checked by contacting the Council Highway Boundaries Research team.
- Be considerate
- You may stop and rest, provided that you stay on the path and do not cause an obstruction or damage the Public Right of Way
- If you stray from the Public Right of Way you are trespassing and the landowner may ask you to leave. Remember that the countryside is a place where people live and work and that you should respect their rights by not deliberately disturbing them or their property
- You can take a short alternative route around an illegal obstruction or fallen tree or remove it sufficiently to get past
- Dogs should be kept under close control and should stay on the Public Right of Way
- Take your litter home
- Close gates behind you, especially when there is livestock in the fields
- You may take your dog with you, provided that it is kept on a lead or is otherwise under close control and remains on the Public Right of Way
- It is an offence to have a dog off a lead or not under close control in a field in which there are sheep. A landowner may shoot a dog that is out of control and attacking livestock
- If a dog injures a person, animal or property, the owner or person in charge of the dog may be liable for damages
- Should your dog foul a path, clean up after it, using dog bins if provided. It is an offence to allow your dog to foul a footpath and you may face a fine if you let them do so
There is no requirement in law for landowners to accommodate the needs of dogs when installing structures on Public Rights of Way.
Dogs belonging to the landowner/occupier should not be allowed free access to land crossed by a Public Right of Way if they are likely to be aggressive or intimidating to members of the public using the PROW. Dogs that are tethered close to a Public Right of Way causing a deterrent to users are an obstruction.
It is the responsibility of Norfolk County Council as Highway Authority to assert and protect Public Rights of Way in Norfolk.
We work with landowners and land managers to resolve issues to ensure that the network is maintained for all to use. Public Rights of Way should generally be maintained to a standard appropriate to their location and use, therefore standards of maintenance between urban and rural paths will differ.
As the Highway Authority, we are responsible for;
- Maintaining the surfaces of Public Rights of Way including the control of natural vegetation
- Assisting farmers and landowners with the maintenance of approved structures
- Signposting Public Rights of Way where they leave a road (note that some tarmac PROW in urban areas may not be signed). We may also arrange for additional waymarking after consultation with landowners
- Maintaining most bridges crossed by Public Rights of Way over natural watercourses including farm ditches (as long as the ditch was there when the path was first recorded)
- Maintaining and revising the Definitive Map and Statement of Public Rights of Way
- Making the Definitive Map and Statement in County Council and District Council Offices available, and to supply relevant extracts to Parish Councils. The Definitive Map is available online via the interactive map
Landowners and farmers are required to;
- Know where Public Rights of Way cross their land and ensure that they are open and easy to use
- Keep Public Rights of Way clear of obstructions and overhanging vegetation including hedges and fallen trees. Hedges should be cleared high enough along bridleways, restricted byways and Byways Open to All Traffic to allow for horses and riders
- Maintain stiles and gates across footpaths and gates across bridleways in a good state of repair (with the assistance of maintenance authorities)
- Not place new structures across Public Rights of Way without prior consent of Norfolk County Council
- Provide new bridges or culverts over new or widened drainage ditches following consultation with Norfolk County Council
- Restore the surface of any cross field footpath or bridleway which has been ploughed or disturbed to at least the minimum width so that it is reasonably convenient to use and apparent on the ground, within 14 days (or 24 hours of any subsequent disturbance). The minimum width for a footpath is 1m across the field or 1.5m on the field edge; for a bridleway it is 2m across the field or 3m on the field edge. These widths only apply to the law on ploughing and cropping and do not affect other aspects of the law on Public Rights of Way
- Not plough or disturb the surface of cross field footpaths and bridleways where it can conveniently be avoided
- Not plough any footpath or bridleway which constitutes a headland, i.e. field edge
- Not plough any Byway Open to All Traffic or Restricted Byway, these Public Rights of Way will have a minimum width of 3m
- Ensure crops (other than grass), are not grown on or overhang a right of way at any time, so as to obstruct or otherwise inconvenience the public or prevent the line of the Public Right of Way from being apparent on the ground
- Not allow any prohibited bull in a field through which a Public Right of Way passes. (See ‘what about bulls’ section)
- Not erect misleading signs likely to deter use of Public Rights of Way
- Not remove or alter the direction of rights of way signs and waymarks
- Not allow barbed or electrified wire to cross through stiles or run too close to adjacent Public Rights of Way
- Contact Norfolk County Council before erecting fencing adjacent to Public Rights of Way to ensure that the highway is not encroached upon
- Ensure that Public Rights of Way are restored following drainage schemes
Further advice is available from the Rights of Way Act 1990.
Occupiers may not, subject to certain exceptions, keep bulls in fields crossed by Public Rights of Way.
- It is an offence to allow a bull over 10 months old to be alone in a field crossed by a Public Right of Way
- Beef bulls over 10 months of age must be accompanied by cows or heifers
- Dairy bulls over 10 months old of a recognised dairy breed (even if accompanied by cows/heifers) must never be allowed on land crossed by a Public Rights of Way
- Any animals that are known to be dangerous should not be on land crossed by a Public Right of Way
If an animal causes injury to a member of the public using a Public Rights of Way, an offence may be committed and the occupier could be sued by the injured party.
If there is any doubt about the temperament of an animal it is best to keep it segregated from the public using Public Rights of Way.
The rules governing the keeping of bulls on or near Public Rights of Way are designed to ensure that the public are not endangered. Any sign which implies that someone using the path might be in danger is misleading and is therefore considered to be an illegal obstruction.
Structures across public footpaths and bridleways are only permitted where there is a need to control livestock, therefore you must apply for and obtain consent from the Council before any new structure is erected.
Structures cannot be erected across Restricted Byways or Byways Open to All Traffic.
Structures cannot be erected for security or other purposes (such as containment of domestic pets or children) and may be regarded as obstructions to the highway.
Public Rights of Way can be temporarily closed by a Temporary Traffic Regulation Order.
Before any works are carried out which might affect a right of way such as drainage works, building works and laying pipes or cables, a closure order will need to be applied for and an official order made.
There are costs to this procedure which can be over £1,000 due to mandatory newspaper advertisements.
A Public Right of Way (other than a Byway Open to all Traffic) which appears on the Definitive Map and Statement can be diverted or extinguished by a legal process whereby a local authority makes a Public Path Order. There are certain legal tests that need to be met before such an Order can be made.
Another way of changing the Definitive Map and Statement is by making an application for a Definitive Map Modification Order under Section 53 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Under the provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, a Definitive Map Modification Order may be applied for by any person wishing to, for example, show:
- A way that isn't shown on the Map but should be**
- A way that is shown on the Map that shouldn't be
- A way that has the wrong status
- A way that is on the wrong alignment
Evidence is required to support the claim. This evidence can be in two forms; either historical or user evidence or a combination of the two.
Although a presumption of dedication can arise under common law, most claims involving user evidence are based on section 31 of the Highway Act 1980 under which it is necessary to show that the public have used the route as of right and without interruption for a period of 20 or more years, running retrospectively from the date when the public's right to use the route was first bought into question.
If historic (pre 1949) Public Rights of Way are not registered on the Norfolk County Council Definitive Map of Public Rights of Way by 1 January 2026 they will be extinguished forever.
If you know of an unrecorded Right of Way (you can check on the Definitive map, which is available as an option on our interactive map) you can make a Modification application to have it added.
Applications need to be made to us prior to 1 January 2026 so that we can investigate and register of these historic routes.
It will still be possible for applications to be made after 2026 for routes which have come into being since 1949 where it can prove they have been used by the public for 20 years, without the landowners permission but historic routes must be applied for as soon as possible.
For a Modification Application Pack and to discuss a potential claim speak to an officer in the Legal Orders and Registers Team on 0344 800 8020.
Landowners can successfully rebut a claim if they can show lack of intention to dedicate the land and that steps had been taken to prevent the accrual of public rights e.g. by appropriate signs and notices, by depositing a statement and map and/or declaration under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980.