General info > Blocked paths
While we all enjoy walking, occasionally our pleasure is spoilt by a path being blocked or obstructed in some way. Problems can range from paths being overgrown to stiles being removed and replaced by barbed wire, hedges or a wall. What you are entitled to do at the time and what right you have to complain depends on the status of the path.
Ordnance Survey maps show some of the different kinds of path, with definitions given in the key printed at the edge of the map.
1. There is the basic path, shown as a black dotted line on Explorer 1:25 000 maps; mostly these are concessionary and the landowner has the right to refuse access or not maintain stiles.
2. Most paths and bridleways shown in green dashes on 1:25,000 scale and red on 1:50 000 scale maps are public rights of way, maintained by County Council Highways Departments. In most cases it is illegal to obstruct these paths; farmers or landowners can be prosecuted for so doing. If you are obstructed on such a path you are entitled to make a reasonable detour to get round the obstruction.
3: Then there are 'permissive' paths and bridleways, mostly shown as orange dashes. These are as concessionary paths - your right to use them is at the discretion of the landowners and access can be refused without reason.
Other paths, mostly along tracks, fall into various levels of access. Again, the colour coding may give a clue to access rights: green for public access and orange for permissive or concessionary. 'Open Access' areas have their own set of rules. Some, for instance, have restrictions on dogs. In 'Open Access' areas you are generally allowed to go where you want, but you shouldn't expect any paths to be maintained unless they are also rights of way.
If you find a public right of way blocked or obstructed, you should notify the relevant council department. If you don't have time to do that use the Add a Comment function for the walk to let us know of the problem, and we'll follow it up. Better still, do both.
Walking with a digital camera as many walkers do and with an up-to-date map, you have all the tools you need to record the offence. Firstly make sure that you are in the correct place and have not made a mistake in your map-reading. Secondly, is there an acceptable alternative nearby? A path may simply have been diverted to avoid a problem area; in time diversion markers may have become overgrown, or just got lost.
Reporting problems is easier now with internet access, as most County Councils have websites. Find the Highways Section for the relevant council and search for the Footpaths section. Send an email with your map reference and digital photos to the footpaths officer, or fill in the form if they have one. They do appreciate the information. Some counties may have several thousand miles of footpaths to look after; even with rangers, they cannot patrol all the paths frequently.
Although councils are technically responsible for cutting back vegetation, most paths that are simply overgrown can be trampled back to get through. Unless tree and bramble growth is causing the obstruction, it is not worth wasting council time in reporting these. All these paths need is more walkers.
It is thought that many paths are lost to access every year. One of the best things we can do to keep paths open is to walk them!