Legal Record of Rights of Way

What is the legal record of rights of way?

The Definitive Map and the Definitive Statement - a written description of every path on the map - together form the legal record of public rights of way. The line of a path on the Definitive Map and Statement (DMS), and its status (public footpath / bridleway / byway) can only be changed by a legal order.

Who keeps it up to date?

We maintain the Definitive Map and Statement. Individual map sheets are updated periodically to reflect the changes, which means that individual sheets may have different publication dates.

What does it look like?

In Surrey, the Map consists of 89 black and white large-scale 1:10000 Ordnance Survey map sheets, with Public Footpaths, Bridleways and Byways shown by standard symbols. Each path is identified by Parish and has a unique identification number. The same number may be repeated in different parishes. The Statement describes the route of the path and gives details of the structures - stiles, gates and bridges - along the way, as well as the nature of its surface. It may also record a minimum width for the path, which is legally enforceable.

What is its legal status?

We are required by law to prepare a Definitive Map and Statement and to keep it up to date. The Definitive Map provides conclusive legal evidence of the existence, route and status of the rights of way shown on it. It does not, however, preclude the existence of other rights of way. If evidence is discovered to show that a public right of way exists that is not shown on the Definitive Map, or that a way is shown incorrectly on the map, it can be added or amended by means of a Map Modification Order.

How did the Definitive Map and Statement come into being?

In 1949, the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act required Highway Authorities to compile maps and statements for the first time, showing public rights of way. Surrey's first DMS was compiled in 1952, from information submitted by District, Borough, Town and Parish Councils, as well as from user groups and the general public.

The map and statement were prepared in three stages. At the draft stage, the public and landowners could make objections about the inclusion or omission of ways on the map and / or to the details recorded in the statement. At the provisional stage, landowners had another opportunity to make objections. The final stage was the definitive stage. In Surrey there were more than 700 objections, which took over 6 years to resolve.

The DMS was first reviewed in 1959 to record changes made since 1952, and then again in 1966. Again there were opportunities for the public and landowners to object. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 completely changed the way in which the DMS is updated, as surveying authorities are now required to keep it under continuous review.

Where can I see it?

Copies of the Map and Statement for the whole County can be inspected by appointment at the County Council's offices at Merrow Depot, Merrow Lane, Guildford, GU4 7BQ (telephone 03456 009009) or at the Surrey History Centre in Woking under reference CC870. The District, Borough and Town or Parish Councils are supplied with copies for their areas, and it should be possible to arrange to view them there. Some libraries also hold copies of the map for their area. Rights of way can be displayed on the Interactive Map which is available on our website. However, this is not a legal record and you should consult the above mentioned copies of the Map and Statement if you are buying a property or making a planning application.

How can I obtain a copy?

Under the terms of our Ordnance Survey licence we are allowed to photocopy extracts from the map up to A3 size, and there is a nominal charge to cover the cost of photocopying. We can also email extracts of the definitive map for no charge.

The information about public rights of way shown on commercial Ordnance Survey maps is taken from the definitive map. We would recommend the 1:25000 scale Explorer series maps for general use. Please be aware that there may have been changes since these maps were published.

To make an enquiry about the Legal Record of Rights of Way, please use our online General Enquiry Form.