Public Rights of Way in Wales

An overview of public rights of way in Wales and NRW’s role

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 management of 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. Click here to find out more about our involvement in these exciting projects. 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. Find out more about Access Land here. 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 on their website.

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.