Access All Areas: A Rights of Way Officer’s view – Part 2

by singletrackjon 29

Our discussion of the issues surrounding access in the UK for mountain bikers continues with the second part of an in-depth article from a Rights of Way officer, we talk about Local Access Forums, what they do, why bikers are under-represented on them and there are some last thoughts and a bit of further reading if the issue has caught your imagination.

If you missed part one, which covered the different types of access, riding on different kinds of land, why ‘normal’ use can be ‘damage’ and much more interesting stuff then take a look here – PART ONE.

“Local Access Forums / Council departments

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act requires Highway (and national park) authorities to establish LAF’s with the function of acting as independent advisors. The Forum’s remit covers all aspects of ‘open air recreation’ for all aspects of society. Regulations state that a LAF should compromise of between 10 and 22 members (including a chair / vice-chair, with a secretary being employed by the appointing authority) and the Forum must meet at least twice a year, although most meet every other month. Some larger authorities have smaller sub-LAF’s (e.g. west and east of the area) and most Forums cooperate with their neighbours so there is uniformity over an even larger area.

The authority has a duty to ensure that the Forum remains as reasonably balanced as possible, so choose a mix of members between users, landowners and others (from business, tourism, etc). People become members by applying for them just like a job; the positions will be advertised, application forms filled in and interviews held. If successful, members are appointed for three years to reapply as normal if they want to. A typical interview panel would be a councillor/LAF chair, the PRoW section head or equivalent and someone from personnel/HR.

The selection criteria reads just like a job application form with ‘essential’ qualities of “To be committed to the function of the Forum and be willing and able to play a full part in all aspects of a LAF’s work” and two of the five ‘desirable’ qualities to “have a wide range of experience of access issues in the area; to have experience of working on, and contributing to, similar Forums in the past”. If a Forum is under-represented in an area they should be willing to take on an inexperienced member if they are keen to represent their particular area of interest.

All authorities should have on their website detailed information on their Forum (Terms of reference, Guidelines / best practice and Roles / duties / functions / etc), but if not will be on the CCW or Natural England website as they initially issued them.

The walking / horse riding contingent are very active and vocal, and in recent years 4 x 4 / scrambler groups are becoming more involved too. Generally speaking members are retired and / or have had previous or current similar positions with other committees or groups.

In my experience the reasons for the under-representation on LAF’s are because bikers: –

  • Would rather go out biking.
  • Prefer group-action, as although biking is indeed a ‘movement’ of sorts it still depends on key individuals / groups. As mentioned earlier, any problems on the ground can be dealt with there and then so many wonder what the point is in any bigger picture.
  • Are generally younger than other user groups, so see councils as being disinterested and out of touch (and in fairness we should do much more to open up on what we do and why, and that yes, we could do with help now and again from user groups).
  • Would rather go out biking!

I’m just as bad to put things off to go out biking instead too, but to commit to half a day every other month at the most isn’t that bad (compared to how much time you could spend comparing parts on the web!), so its worth a try to get involved with your LAF if you think you are suitable. If you don’t or if they aren’t accepting new members or if you are unsuccessful in applying for membership, they are still open to the public so become an observer and see what’s going on in your area. Meetings should end with an opportunity for the members of the public to have their say, so use it!

Perhaps ring your local Rights of Way Department, make yourself known and tell them that you are willing to help or advise with biking issues, or even let them know if you have some ideas on how to improve biking locally. Their Rights of Way Improvement Plan should be on their website, so see what priorities they give biking. Join a local club and talk to your LBS. Everything helps.

Last thoughts

I am a realist and prefer to actively manage conflict instead of just making people stop something outright. I accept that every biker will still make their own decision on where to ride, but hope those who chose to go where they shouldn’t to at least do so carefully and with respect for the land and other people. I will say that just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and just because you can’t be arrested for something it isn’t an open invitation to do whatever you want!

If you are where you know you shouldn’t be and get in trouble then that was your choice, but if you know that you are in the right (maybe the landowner is ok with you being there) and still get shouted at by someone, politely and calmly explain that as far as you’re concerned you are entitled to be there. Either way, it’s really not worth getting into an argument about so just leave it be.

I hope I’ve been able to answer all your questions, but if not I’ll try and answer more via the comments section below. If you would like to know more, the following website & wiki are useful places to start: –

And if you would like to look at the relevant statutes, the other Acts I mostly use are the Highways Act (1980), the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (2000): –

p.s. If you want to know, yes I ride occasionally where I shouldn’t, but I always do so respectfully. Does that make me a hypocrite? I don’t know, but what I do know is me being on the bike and me being in work are two different parts of my life, and sometimes they’re not perfectly in balance.

This just goes to show there is a problem with this whole issue when even a ‘professional’ like me runs into trouble. I understand the system is far from perfect but mountain biking is still relatively new and the PRoW network is old, clumsy and its foundations based on walking. For now though I think it’s who we’ve got that counts for more than what we’ve got.”
Where to now? Well, we’ve spoken to people and local groups that have been involved with their Local Access Forums and general access issues in their back yards to see what their experiences have been and what you should do if you’d like to get involved…

Comments (29)

  1. Nice one 🙂

    See never off duty.

  2. The LAF rules do seem to be designed to keep membership within a certain network. the “to have experience of working on, and contributing to, similar Forums in the past” really is open to blatant abuse.

  3. Thanks for putting the effort in to typing all that – very interesting.

    I’ve recently been sitting down with my OS Explorer maps and a chinagraph pencil, trying to sort out a decent sized loop around my local area and it just isn’t happening! Using footpaths would make it easy, but bridleways are just short sections often going nowhere. I really can’t understand that logic in a lot of them. Some bridleways even stop in the middle of nowhere and magically turn into a footpath, which is bonkers!

    This leads me onto another question. Towpaths. Historically, they would have been used mainly for horses to pull barges along the canal. So why are some towpaths now footpaths only? I can only assume that they were downgraded at some point for some unfathomable reason. If we applied to have these reclassified as bridleways, what grounds could this be objected to, seeing as their very existance was down to the need for horses to pull barges?

  4. Each parish drew up its own Definitive map. Some parish’s right of way office decided a path was a bridleway and some a footpath.

    If you look at the OS 1:25,000 map you can see the parish boundaries at as a little black dotted line. Often you can see the change of status as they cross.

    Also some land owners managed to pressurise ROW officers not to create paths at all. So sometimes a bridleway/footpath will stop as it crosses a parish line.

    Also your’ll notice around some country houses there are no rights of way at all. Even though the staff at these houses must of used the paths to get about so they should of been classified as footpaths.

    Another one to look for is often there is a footpath leading from a village/house to church as it then stops there obviously so the villagers/servants could get to church. But then they’ll be no other footpaths about.

  5. This is why I decide to ignore Bridleways/footpath designation they will often just decided on a whim.

  6. Both articles rreally interesting, there is a lot of time in them, thanks for submitting…

  7. To PDF:

    How current is your OS map, some anomalies (footpaths that should be bridleways) may have been changed in recent years.

    Laminated maps are ace but they last forever (as do e-maps) but you should check for changes in status of paths regularly as they do change in alignment and status over time.

  8. Thanks again, great stuff. These should be published in the mag.

  9. Some parishes did not engage in the drawing of the original definitive maps for their area, so Ramblers Clubs carried out the surveys on their behalf.

    Which may lead to erring on the side of footpath if in doubt/so minded.

  10. a local stretch of fp alongside a river that is traditionally used as a bikers commuter route has had a revamp recently, kissing gates all the way along it, and no cycling signs put everywhere. Hasn’t deterred people, and its hardly enforcable when the local PCSOs ride up and down it every day.

    Your article make good reading, cheers

    ROW Ranger

  11. Just ploughed through the Suffolk LAF meeting minutes and there would appear to be mission creep where the forum is concerning itself with in-town rights of way issues. It was depressing reading as most of the output was appeared to be about confirming their place in the scheme of things. My perception was that the body as constituted is not fit for purpose and represents a missed opportunity to increase access.
    Oh well cheeky trail rules for me then!

  12. thecrackfox, the OS maps I’ve got are the latest ones. All a bit depressing really!

  13. I know my OS maps are out of date and have in recent times used the good old interweb to find new trails in my area. I recommend checking out your local county council’s web site (E.g. mine is Leicestershire: It might not be the best but trawling through the modification orders register has found me a couple of new options.

    Also check out Defra for permissive routes. Again some effort trawling through has yielded results for me.

  14. Fantastic article, thanks for the time it must have taken. You might be able to answer a Q that’s been buggin me, what exactly isd the 2013 definitive map thing i keep hearing about? I know that by then the definitive maps become permandent, but i also thought i’d heard that as part of it all the bridleways that just turn magically to footpaths or stop in the middle of nowhere would be brought into alignment etc to get rid of the effects of parish discrepancies. Is this something you might be able to explain.

    Annoyingly living in N Yorks my LAF is a really long way away, but minutes made for interesting reading.

    Keep it up ST!

  15. Thanks again for the comments!

    piedi di formaggio – I’ve not myself come across towpaths as being FP’s only, my best guess is British Waterways having done this as a last resort (or if there are lots of tunnels maybe?). IIRC their website has a search facility to find which towpaths you can’t bike on.

    scu98rkr is spot on when it comes to missing paths and the history of the definitive map. The parish surveyors are the cause of 95% of todays path problems IMO. I remember from old parish minutes surveyors admitting to not even bothering surveying some paths as, to paraphrase, “it was fine ten years ago – why does it matter?”

    thecrackfox is right, some ramblers surveyed paths instead of the old parish council. Turkeys voting for xmas and all that!

    Sandwich – if you’re concerned about the direction your LAF is taking, its definitely worth submitting a question to the secretary (or even popping down yourself) and bringing them to task about it!

    Mad Pierre makes a great point which I completely forgot about. All councils should now have on their websites a digitised version of their ‘definitive map’ which will have up-to-date information on their PRoW’s. OS maps are generally always a few years out of date hence the disclaimer on their maps.

  16. Call me sad, call me mad but I really enjoy the academic side of RoW. I took a sabbatical from work to concentrate on one piece of legislation as it passed through Parliament in 2005/6, which was a truly enlightening time.

    The only way that we (bikers) are going to get a leap in progress is if we get organised, get a positive press and meet with government, first at officer level (at DEFRA in Bristol) then at minister level. You would be surprised how straightforward it can be once you are organised and perceived to be a positive group. People like the Ramblers, NFU, CLA and the like are well practiced at this. We are not (yet).

    Luckily I live in an area that is packed with riding RoWs and with an Authority that is one of the most proactive. The worry is that in 2013 however they are to give up the legal function of the RoW department and hand that back to the County. This will be a disaster.

    I’d be interested to see your article expanded to cover UCRs (which I know is a maintenance issue, however it is generally taken to be OK to ride bike on). Having just re-read all 800 pages of the Fortune (Wiltshire) case, I think this might be a subject where there is some action in the next few years!

    What is most important however is that we get organised, get a voice, get to badger Benyon and perhaps get primary legislation to allow cycles onto CROW Access Land.


  17. unklehomered – do you mean the 2026 deadline to record historic rights of way? If so, part of the CROW 2000 Act means after that date you won’t be able to add an historic path to the definitive map.

    However a google shows that due to cutbacks, in 2013 Yorkshire Dales National Park will transfer work on their areas definitive map to the councils highways department. As a council / authority has a statutory duty to keep the ‘DM’ up to date (so theres no need to worry), YDNP must have figured out how to transfer the DM workload to the council instead.

  18. ChrisE – you’re not mad OR sad 🙂 it’s a cracking point about taking progress at the next level, and the ease at which the Ramblers / NFU can get things moving.

    As it stands now I can’t see bikers being legislated access onto CROW land. Not because it’s a bad idea, just because the CLA / RSPB and powerful landowners would never allow it. As you said though, getting organised is the first step.

    I’ve read a precis of Fortune, but as UCR’s are covered by the Highways department (I’m countryside) don’t really have much to do with them, which is why I couldn’t really go into any depth with them in part 1

  19. It was good to read those pieces, thanks for writing them.

    However, I think for me they have simply reinforced the insanity of the access laws outside of Scotland, and indeed the broader insanity that is the UK. I’m afraid I am yet to be convinced that we should be campaigning for anything less than the Scottish system of access rights, and that meekly pleading to LAFs and councils is not the way forward.

    I suppose I’m from the radical edge, but it seems to me that mass civil disobedience and protest is our best bet. 50 years to get bridleway rights? Fuck that.

  20. Schnor – I think UCRs are more important than you give them credit for. Although the majority of them are not recorded under the WCA (on the DM&S), their public right status is therefore not recorded however the government (via DEFRA) has acknowledged that they carry ‘at least footpath rights’. We know that many have vehicular rights so most will have bridleway rights. In the Dales they form a large part of the mountain-bike network.

    Such a slippery subject was it – that part 6 of NERCA exempted them from vehicular right extinguishment. The fear was that there would be unintended consequences (possibly extinguishing rights over parts of the ‘ordinary road network’). We’re all happily (e.g. most of Mastilles Lane, parts of the Pennine Bridleway, etc!) but clearly the nettle needs grasping before 2026 otherwise we’ll loose a very large portion of the network.


  21. Ahhh, I am in the dales so either have confused the dates myself, or who ever told me did. But it’s just adding historic tracks to the DM then. Or is there a chance to use it for bridleway up grades. In my area there are many ‘footpaths’ that cross packhorse bridges, or are paved because they are in fact old horse and cart trails. we were hosed, plain and simple.

    @Mansonsoul. I think there is a strong argument against bikes being allowed on all access land, as (i believe) they are in Scotland, higher population density, less understanding of rural issues, the damage that they could have on ground nesting bird etc. But I see no reason against “responsible use” on footpaths. Friend of mine who wrote to his MP got a reply back that effectively said “Ahhh but what happens when you come to a stile? eh?” Bless. None of the letters came back with a good argument against. I would even settle for seasonal/time restricted use i.e. not on weekends and bank hols between 10am and 5pm (part of my own cheeky code as it happens) but blanket rule would be easier to enforce and less open to abuse. I think certainly aim high then there room for compromise..

  22. Unkle

    The DM (Definitive Map) is just a record of what the rights of way (jointly know as highways) are in an Authorities area. They are footpaths, bridleways, restricted-byways and byways-open-to-all-traffic. It is always the case that anything shown on that map can be changed if new evidence comes to light (that a highway has changed, been created or been extinguished). In 2026 that will change and the DM will be cast in stone forever.

    If you know of a highway that is wrongly recorded you should put in an application to have the DM&S amended. It’s very easy to do, it’s free (apart from a couple of stamps and a bit of photocopying) and the users of the route will be forever in your debt. Speak to your RoW department who should help you, but if not mail me and I will point you to someone in your area who will.


  23. A question, why do councils continue to insist that pushing a bike on a footpath is trespass? I’ll quote one at random “but it is submitted that bicycles on footpaths are not usual accompaniments and therefore trespass is committed even if someone pushes or walks with a bicycle along a footpath.” That’s from St.Helens Council.

    Both case law(crank vs brooks) and parliament (discussions on new clause E crow 68) both disagree with that view, but many councils continue to reprint the same old “fact” without justifying their viewpoint.

  24. phead – because they don’t want us there: cyclists are nearly universally reviled in all areas of British society and exclusion from the countryside is just another expression of that fear and hatred.

  25. ChrisE – I take your point on UCR’s (you clearly know a lot more than I do about them!), but I have a feeling 2026 will be upon us sooner than we think

    phead – I may need to refer to my ‘blue book’ on this point, but as I understand it, to avoid trespassing you would need to push a bike when on a footpath, and although a bike isn’t a “natural accompaniment” I’m pretty sure when you push a bike (or I suppose any UNnatural accompaniment) you become a pedestrian and not a trespasser. It sounds like a misunderstanding/misinterpretation to me TBH.

  26. Really good reading. Thanks Singletrack and the contributors. Tempted to get involved with the LAF in my area and have Googled the next meeting and will attend. However having looked at some past minutes and the CVs of the participants I cannot see significant meaningful change soon.
    I will continue riding regardless of classification, try to avoid conflict (busy footpaths etc) be polite and considerate etc and just ignore the tossers, most people are fine if you are reasonable.
    If we all keep doing this we just become part of the countryside and hardly worthy of legislation

  27. Mountain biker representatives on LAFs do exist – I’m one (for NYMNP). The issue of under representation is a serious one. I significantly lowered the average age of the LAF membership when I joined, and I think I may well be the only member who has to take leave from work to attend – as opposed to being past retirement age or being able to justify attendance as part of work/employment. So their is an inherent bias towards more established and traditional user groups (with a more “mature” constiuency) and towards land managers and owners (although the balance of managers/owners vs recreational users should be set out and controlled by the LAF itself)

    4-5 meetings a year means essentially a week of leave used up for LAF meetings, which can be hard to justify when you have a young family. But at the moment LAFs are struggling to find their role (having been initially setup to consult on the CROW act), so active and vocal representation from mountain bikers is even more important so we can be active in the ,molding of what LAFs become and how local authorities use them.

    So it is worth it, even if it doesn’t seem like it half way through a long meeting when you’ve come back around to the issue of dogs and cattle AGAIN… sigh 😉

  28. Jonathan, I was thinking of joining my local one. Currently I don’t work the days that the meetings are on so feel it would be a good use of the time.

    I’m interested how much time you spend on it outside of the meetings themselves. Is there lots of background work to do?

  29. No, not a lot for me. There’s often a report or consultation to read before a meeting (and sometimes out of the meeting “cycle” if there’s deadlines for responses), and a few things circulated for information that are worth keeping up with. Other than that I just try and keep abreast of the overall issues and keep an eye on some of the local forums etc.

    You can invest more time in it if you want – I prepared a presentation for our forum using Dave’s first couple of “Access all Areas” articles as an excuse to have discussions on the topics raised – but there’s no obligation further than speaking your mind at meetings and chipping in whenever you the need to represent bikers interests.

    It’s worth pointing out that LAFs do tend to like people who can chip in on a number of topics – I’m an archaeologist by training so also chip in on heritage matters and anything else I see as being important (sustainable rural communities and the like).

    It is definitely worth it, even if you do have to sometimes put up with some of the usual bluster you get from people at such meetings. A good chair should keep that sort of thing down to a minimum. They are public meetings of course, so you could just go along as member of the public to see what your local one is like – although you won’t be able to contribute to discussion.

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