We manage 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.
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.
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;
Landowners and farmers are required to;
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.
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:
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 contact the Legal Orders and Registers Team at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.