Rights of Way - Potential Problems


Aggressive animals: The Animals Act 1971 makes a keeper of an animal liable for damages if it injures another person, provided the keeper was aware of the animal's tendency to cause injury.  This applies to all animals, including horses and dogs.  If a farmer keeps a bull he knows has dangerous characteristics in a field crossed by a right of way, and a walker is attacked, the farmer will be liable to prosecution under the Health and Safety legislation, and to a claim for damages by the walker under the Animals Act.

Bulls: In general bulls must not be kept in a field crossed by a right of way.  The exceptions are where the bull 

  • is under 10 months old
  • is not of a recognised dairy breed (i.e. British Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey or Kerry) and is accompanied by cows or heifers.

Any bull more than 10 months old is prohibited on its own, as is any bull of a recognised dairy breed, even if accompanied by cows or heifers.

Dogs: a dog can be taken on a public right of way if they are kept on a lead or is otherwise effectively controlled - this means walking at heel or kept on a short (2 metre) lead.  The dog must stay on the path and not worry livestock. 

Landowners have the right to shoot dogs that are out of control and worrying sheep or other livestock. 

There is no duty on landowners to make stiles suitable for dogs.

Crop Spraying

Spraying paths can be dangerous to people and animals.  Spraying must be stopped if anyone steps onto a path that crosses or adjoins a field being sprayed.  Walkers must be allowed adequate time to get clear before spraying is started again.

Electric Fences

Electric fences across a right of way are an obstruction, whether live or not.  Electric fences running alongside a path should be adequately signed, and there should be enough width to ensure no danger of users touching the fence.


Rights of way must be kept clear of obstructions (e.g padlocked gates, barbed wire, slurry, manure, chained or loose dogs). 

Walkers can remove enough of an obsturction to get past or else make a short detour round it - but do not trespass on land belonging to another owner.  N.B. if you cut an illegal fence across a right of way, and stock escapes, you could be liable for damages.


A footpath running along a field edge must not be ploughed.  A path crossing a field should not be ploughed where possible - and if it is ploughed (eg. when sowing or cultivating a crop) the path must be re-instated within 14 days. 

If the width of a path is recorded on the Definitive Map, then that is the legal width of the path.  If no width is recorded, the minimum width for footpaths is 1 metre across a field and 1.5 metres on the field edge.