Public rights of way

A public right of way is a way over which the public have a right to pass and re-pass. All known public rights of way are recorded in the definitive map and statement, which is the main legal record held by the local authority. 

Public rights of way can be found throughout the Poole-Bournemouth conurbation. All of these paths are split into the following four categories:

  • footpath – pedestrians only (including pushchairs, wheelchairs/mobility scooters) 
  • bridleway – pedestrian (including pushchairs, wheelchairs/mobility scooters), equestrian and cyclist traffic only. Usually not a bound surface 
  • restricted byway – pedestrian (including pushchairs, wheelchairs/mobility scooters), equestrian, cyclist and horse and carriage traffic only 
  • byway (open to all traffic) – all of the above and mechanically propelled vehicles 

Our responsibility

To assert and protect the public’s enjoyment of all their highways and to:

  • prevent unlawful encroachment 
  • prevent any unlawful obstruction 
  • prevent stopping up paths against the public interest 
  • keep the definitive map and statement under continuous review 

Your responsibility

  • you must leave land to which you have no legal right of access if asked to do so by the owner or his representative
  • a footpath should be wide enough for two walkers to pass in comfort. A bridleway should allow two horses to pass each other comfortably
  • cyclists and horse riders must not use footpaths
  • cyclists must give way to riders and walkers on bridleways
  • when walking or riding in groups, please travel in single file where necessary and do not spread out beyond the width of the path

Lack of use has no effect on the legal existence of a right of way.

Users may:

  • pass and re-pass on a public right of way
  • stop to look at the view, take a photograph, sit down to rest and so on
  • take a pram, pushchair, wheelchair, but expect to encounter stiles on footpaths
  • take a dog, but always under close control
  • may remove an illegal obstacle sufficiently to get past 

Users may not:

  • roam over land at will, deviating from the line of the right of way unless it is to pass an obstruction
  • use a vehicle on a byway if it is not registered, taxed and insured, or to drive recklessly, carelessly or without due consideration of others
  • use a right of way for any purpose other than as a right of passage
  • cause any unnecessary damage when removing an illegal obstruction 

Rights of way improvement plan

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) sets a deadline of 2026 to record any historically based Rights of Way on the Definitive Map.

To view the public rights of way, select "Layer Control", "Countryside", "Bournemouth and Poole Rights of Way", "Bournemouth Rights of Way" and "Poole Rights of Way". The map is not definitive but is a useful reference.

To respond to this the council has commissioned the Ramblers Association to survey areas that have not yet been mapped and the Countryside Agency has started a 'Lost Ways' Project to progress initial work on historic ways.  Rights claims (where a path or way has been used for 20 years as of right under statute law or less under common law) will continue past this deadline.

The CROW Act 2000:

  • introduces a new duty to produce a Rights of Way Improvement Plan (RoWIP) by 2007
  • required setting up the Dorset, Bournemouth and Poole Local Access Forum  (LAF). The LAF is independent and set up to monitor the access land consultation, implementation and rights of way improvement plans

Borough of Poole and Bournemouth Borough Council adopted the Poole and Bournemouth Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP) 2017 to 2026 in November 2017.

For a hard copy of the improvement plan, please contact the rights of way team on

The definitive map

The definitive map records the location and class of all recorded public rights of way. A definitive statement goes with the map and gives the start and end points and sometimes description of the route.

Poole has a large excluded (unmapped area) that covers approximately two thirds of the Borough, however there is now a project underway to survey and record this area.

Definitive map duties

In 1997, we achieved unitary status which includes being the Surveying Authority for the borough. 

Duties are to:

  • maintain the definitive map and statement
  • investigate applications to modify the map and statement on user or document evidence
  • continuously review the map by modification orders
  • make the public aware of their right to apply to modify the map

Changes to the map

We have powers to make creation, extinguishment or diversion orders of rights of way known as Public Path Orders.

There is a deadline that by 2026, it will no longer be possible to modify the map with claims entirely based on Pre-1949 derived historic evidence.

Claims based on use (20 years use without force, secrecy or permission) will continue to be accepted.

Please contact us by email ( or telephone (01202 128952) if you think you have evidence to record a public right of way, or if you have evidence to either upgrade or downgrade a path (e.g. from a footpath to a bridleway if you found historic evidence suggesting there was horse riding).

Register of applications for modification orders

James Road - Sheringham Road
Submitted: 11 October 2018
Status: Submitted to Planning Inspectorate, to view full set of documents, please email

View application

Further information can be obtained from:

DEFRA - Rights of way circular (1/09)
Rights of way and accessing land
Getting about
Local government ombudsman

Page last updated: 16 April 2021
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