Frequently Asked Questions

Who is responsible for our paths?

In England and Wales the council that has principal responsibility for rights of way in a particular area, known as the highway authority, is either the county council or the unitary authority (the latter term includes London and metropolitan borough councils).

Highway authorities may sometimes assign some of their responsibilities to other authorities. District councils may, by agreement, take over path maintenance and other duties from county councils. Parish and community councils also have the power to maintain paths. In national parks the national park authority sometimes takes over some or all of the responsibilities for rights of way.

Highway authorities have a general duty “to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment” of paths in their area. They are legally responsible for maintaining the surface of the path, including bridges, and keeping it free of overgrowth. They have the power to require owners to cut back overhanging growth from the side of a path.

Maintaining stiles and gates is primarily the owner’s responsibility, but the relevant authority must, where the owner is complying with their maintenance duty, contribute 25% of the cost if asked and may contribute more if it wishes. If stiles and gates are not kept in proper repair the authority can, after 14 days’ notice, do the job itself and send the bill to the owner.

The surface of the path is for most purposes considered to belong to the highway authority along with so much of the soil below and the air above as is necessary for the control, protection and maintenance of the highway. The rest normally belongs to the owner of the surrounding land.

Undergrowth or other obstructions may be removed by bona fide travellers on the path, but only as much as is necessary to get through. Many walkers carry small secateurs for this purpose and the value of clipping back vegetation often goes unrecognised.

Path Teams with the specific purpose of moving obstructions such as undergrowth and installing furniture will therefore usually require permission from both the relevant authority and the landowner.

In Scotland, there is a statutory right of access to most land (and inland water) which is based on traditional, customary access to land, so there has historically been less focus than in England and Wales on the need to protect and keep open paths. There are far fewer paths in Scotland, especially in lowland areas, and there are very few rights of way which are legally protected. One provision of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 was the duty on Scottish access authorities (local authorities and national park authorities) to develop Core Path Plans which would form a framework for local path networks in their area. These plans have now been adopted across Scotland but over 95% of the designated core paths are on existing paths, so there has been little growth in the overall path network and no attempt to redress the lack of paths around and between communities in particular. Ramblers Scotland continues to advocate for more investment in extending this path infrastructure. Access authorities have powers to maintain, promote and keep core paths free from obstruction, but there is no legal duty to do so. However, clearly there is an expectation that such paths are kept open as a priority, although this can be at the cost of investment in the wider path network. Ramblers path teams usually work under the auspices of the access authority, which means they have the relevant permissions to do the work.


Whose permission does my work party need to undertake work on private property?

Both the landowner’s and the highway authority’s permission is required. The processfor obtaining this permission should be clearly set out in any partnership agreement between the Ramblers and highway authority. For some types of work it may be possible to liaise directly with the landowner, but the highway authority should be kept fully-informed.


If my local authority insurance policy covers my work party do I also need to register for the Ramblers personal accident cover?

No. As long as you are satisfied that the authority policy covers your work party there isno need to register for the Ramblers cover. The Ramblers premium is based on
numbers of registered participants, and so it is important that we do not ‘double up’ on cover unnecessarily.


Do participants need to be registered for Ramblers personal accident cover before taking part in practical work?

Yes, but this need not be weeks in advance. If someone new unexpectedly turns up onthe morning of a work party you can leave a phone message on the voicemail at central office.


Who is best-placed to register practical work participants for Ramblers personal accident cover?

The practical work party organiser is best-placed to do this, in order to avoidduplication and minimise bureaucracy.


When out walking can I cut back overhanging branches with secateurs?

Yes, you can remove as much of the obstruction as is necessary to progress on your way, as long as you are certain that you are on the right of way. Please note the section of the guidance on the use of items with blades in a public place.


When out walking can I cut barbed wire?

No, this is not advised. Barbed wire across a path should be reported to the highwayauthority as an obstruction, and barbed wire too close to a path should be reported as a nuisance. Cutting barbed wire can be dangerous and may have unintended consequences. Many people find a piece of foam pipe insulation to be a useful means
of overcoming barbed wire obstructions while out walking.


Can I bash down nettles, brambles, etc. with my walking stick?

Yes, you can remove as much of the obstruction as is necessary to progress on your way, as long as you are certain that you are on the right of way.


Can I erect waymarks?

Waymarking should only be carried out with the permission of the landowner andhighway authority. It may be possible to agree a system for ad hoc waymarking as part of partnership agreement between the Ramblers and highway authority.