Public Rights of Way are protected and maintained by us as the Highway Authority in order to ensure that the general public has access to them. However, there is also a responsibility on the part of the user to ensure that they do so safely and responsibly.
Although the right of way itself is protected and accessible to all, in most cases the surrounding land will be privately owned, and often working farmland. The landowner may have private access rights, such as the right to use a tractor or car on a route. It is important to stick to the right of way, which will be clearly marked.
Types of Right of Way
There are four types of right of way, known collectively as highways, which have different access rights. Different coloured symbols are used to differentiate between the different types of highway.
A footpath is a highway over which the public has a right of way on foot only. A footpath should be at least 1 metre wide across a field where crops are growing, and 1.5 metres wide where it passes around the edge of a field. Footpaths are marked by a yellow arrow with a white surround.
A bridleway is a highway over which the public has a right of way on foot, horseback and on all types of bicycle. There may also be a right to drive animals along a bridleway, and this will be made clear within the Definitive Statement. Bridleways are marked by a blue arrow with a white surround.
A byway open to all traffic (BOAT) is a highway over which the public is entitled to travel on foot, horseback or pedal cycle and by motorised vehicle of all kinds, including horse-drawn vehicles. Although legally open to all vehicles, a BOAT is used mainly by the public for walking or riding. Most byways do not have a sealed surface and may not be suitable for certain vehicles. Vehicles that use a byway must be taxed, insured and have passed their MOT check just as they would be on the road. Byways are marked by a red arrow with a white surround.
A restricted byway allows right of way on foot, on horseback; leading a horse, riding a bicycle or using any other vehicle that is not mechanically propelled.
Restricted byways are marked by a purple arrow with a white surround.
On all Public Rights of Way you may:
- Take a pram, pushchair or wheelchair, but you may encounter stiles on footpaths and be aware the surface may not be suitable at certain times of the year
- Take a dog under close control, preferably on a lead. Provision does not need to be made for dogs at a stile
- Take a short alternative route around an illegal obstruction. This includes a non-reinstated cross-field path
- Move an illegal obstruction sufficiently to get past.
It is illegal to obstruct a public right of way. Landowners may apply to temporarily or permanently alter a PRoW, or even remove a PRoW, but they are not allowed to simply block or interfere with a route.
Illegally obstructing a route is a criminal offence. Essex County Council takes the issue of illegal obstruction seriously, and the Public Rights of Way Concordat outlines the council’s policy and procedure.
If you encounter an illegal obstruction on a public right of way, you should report it.
Keeping to the Countryside Code
All users of public rights of way are responsible for their own safety and must abide by the Countryside Code. The Countryside Code is designed to help us all to respect, protect and enjoy our countryside.