Public Rights of Way Service

As the Highway and Surveying Authority for Bristol City Council, we're responsible for 111 miles, or 178 kilometres, of public rights of way.

We aim to make the most of this network of routes, which are away from vehicles, whether you're on foot, on bicycle or in the saddle. The Rights of Way Improvement Plan (pdf, 1.4MB) (opens new window) sets out proposed actions to improve the network.

We have a statutory duty to:

  • maintain rights of way in a reasonable condition
  • keep them clear of obstructions, such as overgrown vegetation or barbed wire across a path

Use our contact details to report a problem on the PROW network.

You can view Bristol’s entire public rights of way network on our interactive web map.

You can also view the wider network of rights of way in South Gloucestershire and Bath and North East Somerset, on the OutdoorsWest website.

Using the interactive map of Public Rights of Way

Our interactive map shows all recorded Public Rights of Way in Bristol in purple. However, as an interpretation of the Definitive Map, the interactive map may be inaccurate.

If a path is not on this map, and you think it should be, contact us for advice on how to apply to have it added to the Definitive Map. 

If you'd like to talk to us about a particular route, click the right of way you're interested in, and make a note of its number, which will be in the format of BCC /xxx. You'll have to zoom in on the map to see the reference number.

Different types of right of way

There are four main types of Public Rights of Way shown on Definitive Maps:

  • footpath
  • bridleway
  • restricted byway
  • byway open to all traffic

All these rights of way are forms of highway, which are routes over which the public has the right to ‘pass and repass’.  The OutdoorsWest website has definitions of public rights.

The OutdoorsWest website was put together by three Unitary Authorities: Bath and North East Somerset Council, South Gloucestershire Council and Bristol City Council.

You can use it to:

  • find out about local walking groups
  • view route maps
  • report obstructions

Check what public rights exist over a route

We have a statutory duty to keep the Definitive Map and Statement of Public Rights of Way up to date.  The Definitive Map and Statement published in 1966 is the legal record of public rights of way. 

If a way is on the Definitive Map, this is conclusive evidence in law that the public had the rights shown at the relevant date, and still have unless there's been a legally authorised change. 

Public rights may exist over a way which is not shown on the Map, even though it is not recorded.  The status of a route can be changed, or a route can be added to the Definitive Map by way of a legal order.  

You can request a pdf copy of the map by contacting us on:

Email: planning.searches@bristol.gov.uk 

In addition to the Definitive Map, the Searches team also hold the register of Adopted Highways maintained by the Council.

Alternatively, contact us for further advice about a particular route.

Under Section 31(6) of the Highways Act 1980, landowners may formally acknowledge and declare rights of way, if any, which cross their land. By doing so, they effectively prevent any new public rights being acquired over the land from the date of the deposit of their ‘statutory declaration’, subject to periodic lodging of further declarations.

For information about any statutory declarations lodged with us, email landcharges@bristol.gov.uk or call us on 0117 9223967.   

Public Rights of Way responsibilities

The highway authority and the landowners or occupiers of land share the responsibility for the management and maintenance of public rights of way.

The highway authority:

  • has enforcement powers to ensure that the surface of a public right of way is clear of vegetation
  • must respond to notices served by members of the public under Sections 56 and 130A of the Highways Act 1980 

These powers are detailed in the Enforcement policy (pdf, 71k) (opens new window) .

Landowners and occupiers are responsible for ensuring that:

  • rights of way are clear of obstructions
  • any trees, shrubs and hedges on their land do not overhang the highway

The highway authority has power to take enforcement action to ensure that the vegetation is cut back.

Under Section 146(1) of the 1980 Act, landowners are responsible for keeping existing gates, stiles and similar structures on rights of way in good order.  Landowners must seek authorisation from the highway authority to install a new structure on routes through agricultural land under Section 147 of the Act.

We welcome help from landowners and voluntary groups who want to help with carrying out our duties towards keeping rights of way clear and open for public use.

Further information about responsibilities for maintaining Public Rights of Way and how to report a problem is available on the OutdoorsWest website.

If you need to contact neighbouring authorities about cross boundary routes, the OutdoorsWest website also provides quick links to their public rights of way web pages.

Apply for a modification order to have a route added to the Definitive Map

There may be ways used by the public which are not recorded on the Definitive Map. Unrecorded ways often come to light following a change of landowner or a planning application for development of land, particularly if gates or fences are erected which block public access. 

Where public rights are alleged to exist, there are set legal procedures to enable the allegations to be tested in the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. 

Under Section 53(5) of the 1981 Act, any member of the public can apply to the surveying authority for a Modification Order to be made to add a route to the definitive map, if it can be shown that the public have used the path uninterrupted and without permission for more than twenty years before the public’s right was first brought into question. 

The evidence of use must not be offset by any evidence that the landowner during that time had no intention to dedicate the way. 

The procedure for definitive map modification orders is set out in Schedule 14 of the Act.  Applications are investigated in date order of receipt, unless the claimed route is given priority because it is affected by a planning application or development proposal.

Although there's no cost to the applicant, the Modification Order procedure is complex and lengthy.  Natural England's Guide to definitive maps and changes to public rights of way explains the procedure.

If you need more information, or would like to apply for an order, contact the Public Rights of Way team.

View applications for definitive map modification orders

The Surveying Authority must record all applications for definitive map Modification Orders and their outcomes in a register.

You can view the applications online .

Apply for an order to make a change to a way already shown on the map

Changes to recorded public rights of way are commonly made under the Highways Act 1980. 

We have adopted a joint Public Path Order Policy (pdf, 199k) (opens new window) to give guidance for those wishing to apply for such orders. 

The adoption of a joint policy was one of the actions arising from the strategic Joint Rights of Way Improvement Plan.  You can learn more about the Plan from the Joint Local Access Forum (JLAF) web site.

The Law

The principle legislation covering Public Rights of Way can be found in the Highways Act 1980, the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Countryside Act 1968, the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 and the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000.  

You can find more information about these Acts and associated regulations.

You can find additional information and informal guidance on rights of way legislation in the reference book`Rights of Way: a guide to law and practice' by John Riddall and John Trevelyan, published jointly by the Ramblers Association and Open Spaces Society.

Getting involved

The Public Rights of Way Liaison Group is attended by representatives of user groups such as the Ramblers Association, British Horse Society, Open Spaces Society and the Bristol Civic Society. 

The Group meets quarterly with council officers to discuss public rights of way matters. These meetings aren't open to the public, but representatives from other local organisations may attend to speak on issues in connection with items on the agenda. 

OutdoorsWest also provides information on the work of the Joint Local Access Forum, which consists of voluntary members representing user groups, landowners and other interested parties, plus delegated council officers and councillors.

FAQs

A list of Frequently Asked Question regarding public rights of way is available on OutdoorsWest.

If you can't find what you want to know, contact us.

Make a complaint or give feedback about the Public Rights of Way Service.

Contact information

Public Rights of Way Service

Traffic Services (Temple Street)

P.O. Box 3176

Bristol, BS3 9FS

Opening Hours

Email: highways.traffic@bristol.gov.uk

Tel: 0117 922 2100