What is this page for?
Being able to use footpaths and other public rights of way (PRoW) is one of the great and simple pleasures of being in the countryside. But the legislation governing PRoW is far from simple. This page helps you understand some of the ins and outs to better inform your enjoyment.
Who is responsible for Rights of Way locally?
Suffolk County Council (SCC)'s Public Rights of Way Team (NB link is for planning related enquiries) is responsible for all PRoW. They provide detailed information on their web pages, but broadly PRoW are divided into the following classifications:
- Public Footpath – only for use on foot or with a mobility vehicle (horse riders, gravel and mountain bikers, please note)
- Public Bridleway – use as per a public footpath, and on horseback or by bicycle
- Restricted Byway – use as per a bridleway, and by a ‘non-motorised vehicle’, e.g. a horse and carriage (off-road vehicle drivers, please note)
- Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) – can be used by all vehicles, in addition to people on foot, mobility vehicle, horseback and bicycle
How are PRoW mapped?
All currently recorded PRoW are shown on the county Definitive Maps. The Suffolk Map is kept and maintained by SCC. But it is a public document, and SCC as highway authority has a duty to make it available to anyone who wishes to view it. PRoW are also described in the Definitive Statement and together the Map and Statement form the legal record of all currently recorded PRoW.
The Map records the location and status of routes, while the Statement will usually contain more information, e.g. whether the route has a defined legal width, or whether it is subject to any limitations - such as a landowner's right to erect and maintain stiles and gates. A route not being included in a Definitive Map does not prove that it is not a public right of way. On that basis, many legal duties relating to PRoW are not limited to those recorded on a Definitive Map.
The Definitive Map for this parish (scroll down to 'K' and select Kettleburgh - downloads a pdf file) is the only completely reliable map. Ordnance Survey (OS) maps relate closely to the Definitive Maps and are great for most leisure purposes but cannot be relied on for issue resolution or other formal or legal matters.
The Definitive Map does not record information about adopted roads, permissive paths, cycle tracks (for these refer to FindMyStreet) that are not PRoW, or private rights of way.
What are the 'Lost paths' I've heard about?
There may be PRoW that have not been registered on the Definitive Map. These paths are either historical paths that were not claimed under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 or since, or paths that have been created by years of unchallenged public use.
The Ramblers is currently (2023) leading a major exercise called 'Don't Lose Your Way' to identify 'lost' PRoW and have them recorded. The Government has set a deadline of 2031 for recording after which unrecorded PRoW may be lost for good. Contact your local Ramblers group if you would like to help. Its website is providing an increasing number of tools to help you recover lost PRoW.
You can make an application to SCC for a lost path to be added to the Definitive map. As described under 'Changes to PRoW' below, changes, including additions, must be based on evidence. You can provide the evidence in two ways:
- using a User Evidence Form demonstrating that the public has used the path for at least 20 years. This raises a presumption that the route has been dedicated as a PRoW; or
- providing documentary evidence. Because 'a highway is always a highway' legally, historical records and maps can prove that a route was once a PRoW, which must therefore still exist now. This approach cannot be used after 01/01/2026 (Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000) - so you need to move quickly.
To check for any unrecorded rights or anomalies, please contact DefinitiveMaps@suffolk.gov.uk.
Can PRoW be legally closed, blocked or diverted?
PROW must remain open, unobstructed, and safe for the public to use at all times, including throughout any construction period. If you think it is necessary to temporarily close or divert a PROW, you must follow the appropriate process. This is covered to an extent on the Planning and PRoW page, but for definitive up to date advice you must contact the SCC PROW team.
If you are using a PRoW and come up against a blockage or some other unacceptable issue, you can report it to SCC. Do note that resources are limited, so you may need to be persistent to get something done.
Before you report, get the necessary information ready: the location of the problem (use the 8 digit OS map reference (the OS Locate mobile 'app' - free - will immediately provide you with this at the time. You could use the WhatThreeWords 'app', but it is superfluous in the UK despite so many gullible organisations starting to use it); detailed description of the problem; and your personal information (name, address and contact details). Also check that there isn't an existing report.
If the issue is significant, you could also contact your local Ramblers Group to see if they are aware of it - they may already be doing something about it. They often work with SCC on things like new bridges and stiles.
Can I put a hedge or fence along a PRoW?
Any hedges adjacent to a PRoW must be planted a minimum of 2 metres from the edge of the path to allow for annual growth. As a landowner, you are responsible for the maintenance of the hedge and hedges, which must not obstruct the PRoW. Some hedge types may need more space, and if you are a planning applicant you must take this into account. In addition, any fencing should be positioned a minimum of 0.5 metre from the edge of the path to allow for cutting and maintenance of the path and should not be allowed to obstruct the PRoW.
Can PRoW be changed?
It's important to note that once a PRoW has been dedicated, it can only cease to exist if it is legally stopped up or extinguished. Public highway rights do not cease to exist simply as a result of lack of use, for example.
Orders can be made to correct the Definitive Map based on evidence.
But SCC also has the power – it is not also a duty – to make Public Path Orders and is allowed to recover costs from applicants associated with processing their applications and making orders.
Many Public Path Orders are diversions. PRoW can be extinguished, but applications for that often attract opposition and fail - there is a test that the PRoW must not be needed for public use.
What happens if I want to develop on land with PRoW?
If you are an applicant for planning permission, you would be well advised to contact the PRoW team before you begin to develop plans, but you can find some information on the Planning and PRoW page.
What is Access Land - and is it the same as a Common?
The rather different concept of Access Land arose from the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000. It is land where you have the right to access it as a whole and do not need to necessarily follow a particular route (this is known as the 'Right to Roam'), but there are conditions for using it. It might be crossed by PRoW in addition to the general right of access. Each area of Access Land has a legally defined boundary and this will normally be marked with special signs at every defined
access point: and exit point:
Most Access Land is upland and forest, or sometimes heath, as in our area. These areas are marked with special shading on OS Explorer (1:25000 scale - 'orange') mapping.
You will often have a similar right to roam over Commons, but they are not the same thing as access land legally. Find more information about Access Land on SCC's Open access land page and about Commons on their Commons and village greens page and the Government Commons and village greens page.
There doesn't seem to be any access land in Kettleburgh Parish. [Do you know differently? Let us know!]