Public rights of way provide one of the main means of accessing and enjoying the countryside in Wales. There are around 33,000km (20,750 miles) of public rights of way in Wales. They are all public highways and the public has a right to use them.

Local authorities are responsible for the overall management of public rights of way. However landowners also have important legal obligations and management responsibilities for public rights of way. 

There are four different categories of public right of way:

  • Public footpaths, which can be used by walkers only. Most public rights of way in Wales are footpaths
  • Public bridleways, which can be used by walkers, cyclists and horse riders
  • Restricted byways, which can be used by the same groups as bridleways, while also allowing horse-drawn carriages and other non-motorised vehicles
  • Byways open to all traffic, which may be accessed by all users, including those in motorised vehicles

People using pushchairs or wheelchairs can use all of the above routes where they are physically suitable. Restrictions that may apply to areas of Access Land with public access under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 do not apply to public rights of way that cross the land.

People may take a dog with them when using public rights of way, although there is no duty for highway authorities or landowners to provide stiles that are suitable for dogs. 

The Countryside Code, the Trail Users Code and Dog Walking Code provide information and advice about using public rights of way and visiting the outdoors.

Definitive Maps of public rights of way

Most public rights of way will be recorded on a definitive map and statement for the area.

Our role

Natural Resources Wales works with the Welsh Government, local authorities and other stakeholders to ensure public rights of way are:

  • In excellent condition and easy to use
  • Well-publicised and easy to find out about
  • As accessible to all lawful users as possible

Examples of this include:

  • Providing specialist advice and responding to consultations on Rights of Way legislation and policy
  • Providing advice on guidance Welsh Government issue to the public and others
  • Coordinating the delivery of the three National Trails in Wales and the Wales Coast Path
  • Responding as a statutory consultee to Rights of Way Improvement Plans in Wales

Rights of Way Improvement Plans and funding

Local highway authorities are required by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 to produce a Rights of Way Improvement Plan for their area, most current plans run until 2017. 

These strategic plans set out the authority’s key priorities for improving the rights of way over the life of the Plan.

Welsh Government has provided a major boost to the implementation of these Plans through the ROWIP Funding Programme which is administered and managed by Natural Resources Wales. 

Since 2008/9 the Welsh Government has invested £10.9 million to help local authorities to implement their rights of way improvement plans with a further £1million in 2016/17.

Further information about ROWIPs and the results of the Funding Programme.

National trails, the Wales Coast Path and other promoted routes

Natural Resources Wales coordinates the delivery of the three National Trails in Wales and the Wales Coast Path. These are the flagships of the public rights of way network in Wales.

Natural Resources Wales is also working with partners to provide national promotion for regional and local longer distance quality assured routes.

Other access opportunities in Wales

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 provided new public access rights to many areas of mountain, moor, heath and common land across Wales. Most of the forest estate managed by Natural Resources Wales has also been dedicated as Access Land

Cycle tracks are a special designation of route created with cycling in mind, but you can often walk or ride horses on them too. The National Cycling Network includes many of these routes and is publicised by Sustrans.

There may be opportunities to enjoy permissive access in some areas. Permissive access is not a public right. Instead, it is land, or routes, that the owner allows people to use.

These are often not shown on maps because they are not permanent. Many public or charitable landowning organisations such as the National Trust, Woodland and Wildlife Trusts and local authorities will provide access on sites that they own or manage.

Check their websites to see what's on offer near you. There may even be opportunities to get involved in maintaining those sites.

What are Rights of Way Improvement Plans?

The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 places a duty on each Highway Authority in England and Wales to publish a Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP).

These are 10-year prioritised plans for the improvement of the local rights of way network and are intended to benefit the public.  Securing an improved network, for walking, cycling, horse riding and off-road users. 

People with sight and mobility issues are specifically mentioned by the CRoW Act and the additional requirements of the Equality Act 2010 also apply. 

The plans set out the principle means by which local highway authorities are to identify, prioritise and plan for improvements to their local rights of way network.

ROWIP Review

Local authorities must review their Rights of Way Improvement Plan within 10 years of producing their last plan.  Since the first plans were produced in 2007/8 this means that the second round of ROWIPs should have been reviewed. 

Welsh Government has issued statutory guidance setting out how this should be done and the key steps involved.

Authorities must:

  • Plan for the Review: issue and outline and timetable and initial consultation
  • Carry out new assessments
  • Review the previous ROWIP and decide if they need to amend it
  • Publish a Draft ROWIP. This is subject to a minimum 12-week public consultation
  • Revise the Draft ROWIP
  • Publish their Final ROWIP

The published RoWIPs should have distinct sections setting out the strategic context and assessment of an authority’s local rights of way. These sections will lead into a Statement of Action for the management and improvement of local rights of way over the life of the Plan. 

The Statement of Action should include key aims and priorities, long term strategic commitments and details of what will be deferred to Delivery Plans. 

For the new ROWIPs Welsh Government introduced a Delivery Plan.  These are 1-3 year work plans which were introduced to enable authorities to be more flexible to funding opportunities and changing legislation. 

Have your say on Rights of way

There are opportunities as part of the ROWIP review for the public and interested stakeholders to help the authority develop their plan by providing information about their needs and priorities. 

Local Access Forums have a key role to support the development of the ROWIP. 

NRW is a statutory consultee for all ROWIPs and is looking at how NRW managed land can help meet public needs

RoWIP Related research

No recent research has been commissioned in relation to Rights of Way Improvement Plans. 

Two pieces of research based on the first ROWIPs in Wales were commissioned:

Download Full Report of Wales ROWIP Review.PDF (1 MB)

In 2013/14, Natural Resources Wales was tasked with commissioning a review of RoWIPs. This formed the basis of Natural Resources Wales's advice to the Welsh Government. These research reports are also available below.

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