A right of way is a path that anyone has the legal right to use on foot, and sometimes other modes of transport:
- public footpaths can be used by walkers
- public bridleways can be used by walkers, horse-riders and pedal cyclists
There are almost 3,000 miles of public rights of way in Dorset: 4,700 footpaths, 1,700 bridleways and 37 byways.
Maintenance of rights of way
Working closely with landowners and volunteers, Dorset Council's Greenspace Management Teams investigate reports received from members of the public and user groups and carry out practical work across the county.
Signposting and waymarking
Dorset Council has a duty to signpost public rights of way where they leave a metalled road. Rights of way are also signposted or waymarked particularly where the route is not obvious.
Stiles and gates
It is the landowner's responsibility to maintain stiles or gates on public rights of way on their land. Dorset Council usually contributes a minimum of 25% of costs.
It is an offence to intentionally obstruct a public right of way. An electric fence across a right of way is an obstruction, regardless of whether the current is live or not. Electric fences alongside a right of way should be adequately signed and give plenty of width to ensure there is no danger of users coming into contact with the electric fence.
Ploughing and cropping
Crossfield paths may be ploughed or cropped as long as the path is reinstated within 14 days. Headland paths should not be ploughed or cropped.
Landowners are responsible for cutting back hedges, trees or shrubs overhanging a public right of way. Surface vegetation or undergrowth on rights of way, such as nettles or brambles, are the responsibility of Dorset Council.
Section 59 of the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 bans the keeping of bulls in fields crossed by a right of way, unless they are under the age of 10 months or not of a recognised dairy breed, provided they're accompanied by cows or heifers (young female cows).
Bridges should be in a safe condition for public use. Not all bridges on public rights of way are owned by Dorset Council, however regardless of ownership, we have a duty of care to ensure that all bridges associated with public rights of way are in a safe condition. Generally, we maintain bridges over natural watercourses. Although there are exceptions, privately-owned bridges have a higher private right i.e. private drives and access tracks. Larger bridges over man-made obstacles such as railway lines are usually the responsibility of a third party such as Network Rail.
Dorset Council is responsible for the maintenance of the surface of rights of way according to the status of the path; for example a footpath will be maintained up to footpath standard even if it may also be used by private vehicles.
To contact the correct ranger for a specific area of Dorset you can check on the Greenspace areas and managers map. You can also contact them direct: