Managing public rights of way
Public Rights of Way can be found in towns, villages and the countryside. All public rights of way should be denoted by a signpost or waymark. Some paths may be surfaced in towns but many follow tracks, cross fields or pass through woods in the countryside. Paths should be signed from the roadside and the route is often waymarked by coloured arrows. Different types of public rights of way can be used by different users.
Footpaths - indicated by yellow arrows; for use by walkers only.
Bridleways – indicated by blue arrows; for use by walkers, horse-riders and pedal cyclists.
Restricted Byways – indicated by plum-coloured arrows; for use by walkers, pedal cyclists, horse-riders and horse drawn vehicles.
Byways open to all traffic (BOATs) – indicated by red arrows; for use by walkers, pedal cyclists, horse-riders, horse-drawn vehicles and motor vehicles.
How are Rights of Way Mapped?
The Definitive Map and Statement (DMS) for Worcestershire dates from the 1950s and was created under the terms of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949.
It was published after consultation between the county council, parish and district councils, landowners and members of the public and today forms a legal record of the public rights – footpaths, bridleways, byways and restricted byways – that exist in the County of Worcestershire. The Definitive Map shows the routes of public rights of way and the Definitive Statement provides a written record of each route.
The DMS comprise a very important document. If a route is shown on the DMS then that is legal – conclusive – evidence that the public have those rights and retain them still, unless there has been a legally authorised change.
Viewing the Definitive Map and Statement (DMS)
The current DMS was published on 31st March 2005 and is evidence that the public rights of way shown on it existed on that date. It can be viewed at The Countryside Centre, Worcester Woods, and copies covering the individual districts can be seen at their relevant contact centres. If you wish to view the DMS at The Countryside Centre then please contact the Countryside Service to make an appointment first. Also, each parish council, and some local libraries, has a copy of the maps covering their parish.
How are Rights of Way Managed?
Worcestershire County Council is responsible for the management of the public rights of way network in the county. This responsibility is carried out primarily by the Council's Countryside Service Access Team.
With nearly 16,000 individual public rights of way there is a considerable range of issues to address including vegetation growth, signposting and waymarking, repair and replacement of bridges, blocked paths, stiles and gates in need of repair and drainage and surfacing problems.
Who carries out this work?
Whilst the overall responsibility to ensure public rights of way are available for the use and enjoyment of the public rests with the County Council as Highway Authority, responsibilities are divided between the Council and landowners and occupiers.
The County Council is responsible for:
- Signposting paths where they leave a metalled road
- Waymarking along the route of paths
- Clearance of undergrowth i.e. natural vegetation growing through the path surface
- Maintenance of most bridges and ditch crossings
- Ensuring landowners and occupiers comply with their responsibilities
Landowners and occupiers are responsible for:
- Maintenance of stiles and gates
- Clearance of overgrowth i.e. vegetation growing from the sides or above
- Re-instatement of paths after ploughing
- Keeping paths clear of crops
- Making sure they don't obstruct paths in other ways
How is this work organised?
Necessary work is carried out through a number of different work programmes including general maintenance and improvement, larger scale projects (such as large bridges, or drainage and surfacing work) and partnerships with local volunteers and parish councils. Some of the work is done in response to problems reported by the public and some through planned programmes such as the summer strimming or signposting programmes.
Apart from work undertaken by the Council's contractors, many problems, particularly lower priorities, are resolved by local Parish Paths Wardens and other volunteers.
Most landowners and occupiers carry out their responsibilities without contact or action by the County Council. Occasionally, however, some landowners or occupiers fail to comply with their statutory duties and the Council is required to resolve the matter. Normally this is achieved through co-operation but, if necessary, the Council will serve legal notice, take direct action to clear an obstruction and/or consider prosecution.
How is the work prioritised?
Given the extensive network of paths in the county, and the different uses made of them, some paths have different maintenance needs from others. For example, a path regularly used by families, perhaps with pushchairs, to access the village school, will probably require a level, tarmacked surface, strimming of undergrowth if necessary during the summer months, be free of stiles and require prompt response to any problems that arise. On the other hand, a footpath in a remote rural location is more likely to be visited by more experienced walkers who are competent map readers, able to climb stiles as well as cope with some undergrowth and, thus, maintenance standards may not need to be so high or dealt with so quickly.
Consequently, following extensive consultation with parish councils, local parish paths warden volunteers, user groups and land management groups, each path in the county has been allocated a classification (A, B,C or D), not dissimilar to the classification of roads. Allocated classifications reflect the level and type of use and hence the needs of communities and other users. Path classifications can be seen on the public rights of way map.
The classification allocated to a path is, of course, not necessarily fixed forever. If it is felt that the classification needs to be amended due to changing use, and perhaps suggestion from a parish council or users, then this can be done.
Across the whole network of paths in the county, the County Council has several thousand problems to tackle each year, whether reported by the public or identified by officers. Given this volume, problems need to be prioritised and this is determined by considering the path classification, referred to above, alongside the severity of the problem and its impact on path users. Taking account of the path classification and problem severity, the County Council's Countryside Access Team allocates a priority between 1 and 6 to each identified problem or issue.
Problems are normally addressed in order of priority. For example, a Priority 1 will be inspected and fixed, made safe or, if necessary, temporarily closed, as a matter of urgency. Other priority problems are also generally dealt with in order of their priority although it often makes sense to include some lower priority work with higher priority work in the same locality.