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Rights of way


Public Rights of Way are paths and tracks that anyone can use to cross private land. Rights of way exist in towns, villages and the countryside and you have a legal right to use them at any time of the day or night, all year round. All rights of way should be marked by a signpost or waymark at points along the route. It is a good idea taking an Ordnance Survey map if you do not know the area.

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There are nearly 4,000 miles (6,000 km) of rights of way in Wiltshire. Find a right of way in Wiltshire.

Access land

You can walk freely on some areas of mountain, moor, heath, download and registered common land without having to stick to paths. Find out more about access land.

Salisbury Plain training area

A certain amount of public access is allowed on Salisbury Plain. Find out more about public access on Salisbury Plain.

Permissive paths

There are many permissive paths around the county. Some of these have been negotiated through various schemes run by Natural England. Find out more about permissive paths in Wiltshire.

Cycle and walking routes

Sustrans offers mapping which shows recommended routes for cyclists. These are generally on a mixture of rights of way, quieter roads and cycle routes. The 1 South West adventure cycle map shows all the tracks cyclists can legally use in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and grades each route for difficulty. Find out more about walking in Wiltshire.

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Public rights of way within Wiltshire are recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement. The Definitive Map and Statement for Wiltshire dates from the early 1950s and was created under the terms of the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act.

It forms a legal record of the public rights of way – footpaths, bridleways, restricted byways and byways open to all traffic – that exist in the county of Wiltshire. The Definitive Map shows the route of public rights of way and the Definitive Statement provides a written record of each route. If a route is shown on the Definitive Map then that is legal, conclusive evidence that the public have those rights and retain them still, unless there has been a legally authorised change since the map was created.

You can view the Definitive Map and Statement for Wiltshire at County Hall, Trowbridge, or view a working digital copy of the map.

Landowner declarations of public rights of way

Section 31 (6) of the Highways Act 1980 enables landowners to deposit a map and statement with the local authority showing the ways on their land (if any) which they admit are dedicated as public rights of way. This can help landowners to avoid new rights of way being created across their land through public use. Submissions made prior to 1 October 2013 expire after 10 years. Submissions made after 1 October 2013 expire after 20 years. Find out how to make a deposit under the highways act 1980 section 31 (6).

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The definitive map and statement is the legal record of public rights of way and Wiltshire Council has a duty to keep it under continual review. It is continually subject to change and paths may be added, upgraded, downgraded, extinguished or moved subject to due process. This can involve:

Definitive Map Modification Orders (DMMOs)

  • When the council becomes aware that the definitive map is in error, it may make a DMMO to change it. Any person may also apply for a DMMO by following the correct application procedure. This will include bringing evidence to the council’s attention that suggests that the map needs changing.
  • The council must maintain a register of these applications.
  • Any person wishing to apply for a DMMO should email rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.uk.
  • Once made a DMMO is circulated as appropriate, advertised on site and in a local newspaper, it is subject to a 42-day period, during which objections or representations may be received. DMMOs must be determined and it is only after due determination of the issues that the order is confirmed and the map is changed.

Public Path Orders (PPOs)

  • The council may make a PPO to divert or extinguish an existing path or to create a new path. These may be made by the council in the interests of the public or in the interests of the landowner, provided certain tests are met. PPOs may also divert paths affected by development where planning permission has been granted.
  • The council maintains a register of these applications.
  • Any person wishing to apply for a PPO should email rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.ukApplicants will be required to pay associated costs.
  • Once made a PPO is circulated as appropriate, advertised on site and in a local newspaper and is subject to a 28 day period during which objections or representations may be received. The council may decide to abandon a PPO or it may be determined. It is only after determination and confirmation that the map is changed.

Creating a right of way

  • The council may enter into an agreement with a landowner to create a new right of way. The council may also create a new right of way by order where there is clear public benefit or need. It is however uncommon to create rights of way by order against landowners’ wishes and compensation may be payable.
  • Any person wishing to create a right of way over their land should email rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.uk.

Planning and rights of way

  • Where a public right of way is affected by a development, the council may make an order to move or extinguish the path if it is not needed. The order must be necessary in the sense that without the order, development could not be carried out.
  • If development proceeds without consideration of the right of the way, leading to damage or obstruction, the landowner will be held liable.
  • Any person who requires a path to be moved for this reason may apply for an order and should email rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.uk. Applicants will be required to pay associated costs.
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The duty to maintain the public rights of way network is shared between Wiltshire Council, as the highway authority, and the landowners/occupiers of the land over which the path exists.

Wiltshire Council responsibilities:

  • Making sure public rights of way are free from obstructions.
  • Clearance of vegetation growing from the surface of the path.
  • Signposting rights of way where they leave a road and waymarking the route where appropriate.
  • Maintaining bridges over natural watercourses.
  • To provide a minimum of 25% contribution towards any costs incurred by a landowner in maintaining stiles and gates on public rights of way.

Landowner/occupier responsibilities:

  • Maintain stiles, gates and other boundary crossings.
  • Obtain consent from the highway authority before erecting new stiles or gates on public rights of way.
  • Cut back encroaching hedges or overhanging vegetation that is growing from their land.
  • Keep paths clear of obstructions, such as padlocked gates, electric fences etc.
  • Make sure that no misleading signs are placed near rights of way that might deter people from using the path.
  • Cross-field footpaths and bridleways (but not byways) can be ploughed where it not cannot reasonably be avoided as long as they are reinstated within two weeks of ploughing.
  • Field paths must be kept clear of crops to the width recorded in the Definitive Statement or, where no width is recorded, a minimum width of:  
    • Footpath: 1m across field and 1.5m field edge
    • Bridleway: 2m across field and 3m field edge
    • Other rights of way: 3m across field and 5m field edge

Livestock and rights of way

It is an offence to allow any bull over 10 months old to be on its own and at large in a field crossed by a public right of way. It is also an offence to keep a bull of a recognised dairy breed (even if accompanied by cows/heifers) on land crossed by a public right of way. Bulls that are less than 10 months old or of a recognised beef breed and at large with cows/heifers are exceptions to this rule.

How is rights of way maintenance work organised?

The rights of way section plans and implements regular maintenance schedules. These include annual growth clearance programmes and a parish by parish maintenance programme.  

In addition, defects reported by the public are prioritised and addressed in this order:

  • The issue represents an immediate danger to the user.
  • An obstruction that prevents or inhibits use of the path.
  • Not so severe that it would warrant attention prior to the parish being visited on the parish maintenance programme.

Maintenance work is carried out by Rights of Way officers, landowners/occupiers, or in partnership with external contractors, parish and town councils, the Probation Service and volunteer groups.

Obstructions and enforcement

Most landowners carry out their responsibilities without contact or action from the council. However, where landowners fail to comply with their statutory duties, the council is required to resolve the matter. This is normally achieved through co-operation, although if necessary, the council will serve legal notice, take direct action to clear an obstruction at the landowner’s expense, or seek prosecution.

Temporary closures

Occasionally it may be necessary to legally close a right of way or to request voluntary restraint for a limited period of time in the interests of public safety, or to allow works on or adjacent to a right of way to be carried out. Rights of way must not be closed or in anyway restricted without the council's prior consent.

Traffic Regulation Orders

Traffic Regulation Orders (TROs) may be used to prohibit certain kinds of traffic from rights of way that are considered unsuitable or inappropriate. This can be done with a permanent TRO, a temporary TRO on a seasonal or all-year-round basis, or by means of voluntary restraint.

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Wiltshire Countryside Access Improvement Plan 2015-2025 (CAIP)

The CAIP outlines our aims and objectives in managing public rights of way and access to the countryside. It covers access to the countryside for both leisure and exercise, but also use of the more urban rights of way for other purposes, such as shopping and school journeys. Although it is focused on the rights of way network, it also considers the use and improvement of other areas of land that the public may use for access, such as access land, permissive paths, canal towpaths and country parks.

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Under the 1965 Commons Registration Act, Wiltshire Council is the Commons Registration Authority for the County of Wiltshire. Wiltshire County Council originally drew up the registers of Common Land and Town and Village Greens, and Wiltshire Council is now responsible for:

  • Maintaining the register of common land.
  • Maintaining the register of town and village greens.
  • Dealing with applications to register new town and village greens.
  • Processing applications to amend the registers.

If you would like to view the register of common land or the register of town and village greens, you may do so free of charge at Wiltshire Council offices. The registers of common land and village greens are held by Wiltshire Council. They include a description of each registered common or green, including a map, details of land ownership and the particulars of any rights of common. For enquiries regarding the location of commons and greens and viewing the registers, please email highwayrecords@wiltshire.gov.uk.

Common land

Commons are areas of land, usually in private ownership, that are subject to rights held by other individuals, for example the right for others to graze animals, collect firewood etc, over that land. These rights of common usually originate from local custom.

Following the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, areas of common land throughout England were mapped by Natural England and included as access land over which the public have had a right to walk freely (subject to certain restrictions)

Town and village greens

A town or village green is land over which a significant number of inhabitants of any locality have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years.

See current town and village green applications.

Under Section 15 of the Commons Act 2006, it is possible to apply to register an area of land as a new town or village green. An application must meet the following criteria:

  • A significant number of inhabitants of any locality or neighbourhood within a locality have indulged “as of right” (without permission, without force and without secrecy) in lawful sports and pastimes on the land for a period of at least 20 years and continue to do so at the date of the application, or
  • (ii) where the cessation of use occurred after the commencement of Section 15 of the 2006 Act on 6 April 2007, the application is made within the period of two years beginning with the cessation of use; or
  • (iii) where the cessation of use occurred before 6 April 2007, the application is made within the period of five years beginning with the cessation of use.

If the use of the land meets all these conditions, an application may be made to register the land as a town or village green. 

Your claim must be supported by user evidence, in the form of statements from local inhabitants who have used the land, or completed witness evidence forms. Witness evidence forms can be obtained from the Open Spaces Society.

Alternatively, a landowner may voluntarily register land as a town or village green, in which case it is not necessary to demonstrate a set period of use.

The registration of a town or village green preserves recreational rights for local inhabitants of the area and if the legal criteria are met, could potentially safeguard land against future development.

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It has been possible since 15 December 2014 for people to apply to us to amend the commons and village greens register.  In some cases, a fee will be payable.

Wrongly registered land

The registers of common land or village greens in Wiltshire were first prepared under the Commons Registration Act 1965 by Wiltshire County Council.  The enormity of the task meant it was possible that some land was wrongly registered as common or village green.   Paragraphs 6 to 9 of Schedule 2 to the Commons Act 2006 enable you to apply to Wiltshire Council as Commons Registration Authority for Wiltshire (excluding the Borough of Swindon) to deregister certain types of land and buildings that were wrongly registered.

To remove land from the registers you will need to show the land to have been wrongly registered under the Commons Registration Act 1965.  You can also apply to de -register common land or village green where the land was built upon at the time of the original registration and is still built upon at the time that your application is decided.  You must apply by 28 February 2027.

Deregistration of buildings

Where land is, and has been, covered by a building or the curtilage of a building ever since the land was registered under the 1965 Act you may be able to apply under paragraphs 6 or 8 of Schedule 2 of the 2006 Act.  Such land may include cottages or garden on or abutting the common or green. 
Correction of errors
You can apply under section 19(2)(a) of the 2006 Act to correct a mistake made by the Commons Registration Authority at the time of registration.
For Wiltshire Council the scope for alterations of the Commons or Village Greens Register is limited under the 2006 Act and Forms CA9 and CA10 only apply. These are available from the website of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.


Fees

There are fees for some applications under section 19 to amend the register.  Additional fees may be charged by the Planning Inspectorate, where they are involved in processing an application.  Further information can be found in The Commons Registration (England) Regulations 2014.

Application fees from 1 April 2017

Provision
Purpose of application
Application fee
Section 15(1) of the 2006 Act
Form 44
Registration of a new town or village green, other than by the owner
No fee

Section 15(8) of the 2016 Act
Form 44

Registration of a new town or village green by the owner
No fee
Section 19 of the 2016 Act
Form CA10
Correction for the purpose of certain land registered as common land or as a town or village green
£1960

Work not specified in the regulations

Provision
Purpose of request
Fee
Local Government Act 1972
Searching for land to which rights of common attach
£60.60 per hour

There is no fee for applications made under the Commons Registration Act 1965.

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Countryside volunteering

There are lots of opportunities to get involved as a volunteer in improving Wiltshire's environment to volunteer with Wiltshire council on our countryside sites or rights of way.

Contact us countryside@wiltshire.gov.uk or rightsofway@wiltshire.gov.uk.

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Wiltshire Countryside Access Improvement Plan 2015-2025 (CAIP)

Wiltshire CAIP PDF (14mb)

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Last updated: 21 September 2017 | Last reviewed: 21 September 2017