Vegetation, trees and crops on Rights of Ways

What to expect

We endeavour to ensure that natural surface vegetation, hedges and over hanging trees are maintained so as not to interfere with the users enjoyment. Hedges should not significantly reduce the width of path available for the public to use. Trees should not overhang a right of way low enough so as to interfere with a user. They should not present a hazard to the public.

Where a public right of way crosses a cultivated field the route should be easily identifiable and reinstated after ploughing. The right of way should also be kept free of crops, other than grass, to ensure that the path is easy to use.

Who is responsible?

We are responsible for clearing vegetation growing from the surface of the path, other than crops. The cutting back of hedges and over hanging trees generally rests with the landowner and we will take up any issues directly with them. A fallen tree will be treated as an obstruction and is the responsibility of the landowner. The occupier of the land is also responsible for keeping the right of way free from planted crops.

Annual Vegetation Clearance Programme

Some paths that are known to become overgrown in the summer are routinely cut back of surface vegetation. The clearance programme is weather dependent, usually starting in May and will continue into August. The work is usually carried out on a parish-by-parish basis.

Ragwort

Ragwort is an injurious weed containing toxins that can have a debilitating or fatal effect if eaten by horses or other grazing animals. More information about this weed can be found on our Horse care and pasture management page.

Surrey County Council will take the appropriate action to control ragwort on the public rights of way network and on highways verges where there is, in our view, a high risk of it spreading to land used for the grazing of horses, other grazing animals, or for the production of animal feed.

If you would like to report a significant outbreak of ragwort growing on a public right of way please complete an online report form. To report large clumps of the weed on highway verges adjacent to pasture land, contact either Highways England for motorways/trunk roads or, for all other publicly maintainable roads in Surrey contact Surrey Highways via the on-line form on their weeds web page, or contact us.

For Landowners

Hedges and trees

If a hedge forms part of your boundary then it is your responsibility to keep it from growing into a right of way. Trees along the edges of a right of way are generally the landowner's responsibility to maintain in a safe condition. It is advisable to check regularly the trees on your land to ensure that they do not pose a hazard. Remember that on bridleways horse riders should have at least 4 metres of headroom. The landowner is responsible for clearing fallen trees that obstruct a right of way.

If you need to carry out any work to trees near a public right of way you should not endanger users, or temporarily close a public right of way, you should contact the district or borough council to ensure that a Tree Preservation Order (TPO) does not protect the tree or that Planning Permission is not required. Please also contact the relevant Countryside Access Officer prior to any works, or if you have any queries regarding individual trees.

We have a duty to ensure that any trees on or adjacent to a public right of way do not inconvenience the path user. Please note that this does not extend to leaf clearance from adjoining properties or trees overhanging private residences.

Landowners and cropping

The 1990 Rights of Way Act states that you must not plough or disturb the surface of a footpath or bridleway that runs along a field edge. You must also avoid ploughing a cross-field path where possible. Byways Open to All Traffic (BOATs) must not be ploughed at all.

The full width of the path must be kept clear of all crops, other than grass.

If the width of the path is recorded in the Definitive Statement, then that is the minimum width. If there is no width recorded then the minimum width shall be:

Footpaths

  • 1 metre across the field
  • 1.5 metres on the field edge

Bridleways

  • 2 metres across the field
  • 3 metres on the field edge

Byways

  • 3 metres across the field
  • 5 metres on the field edge

Please note the above are minimum widths and apply only to re-instatement following cultivation. In other instances where the Definitive Statement gives no width the path is likely to extend up to any physical boundaries, or where the path has previously been unenclosed - 2m for a Footpath or 4m for a Bridleway (the widths required for two users to pass safely).

What happens now?

When reporting a problem with vegetation, trees or crops your report will be allocated to the relevant Countryside Access Officer, who may need to visit the site. If the report involves the clearance of vegetation on the surface of the path we will issue an instruction for contractors to carry out the work when they next in the area, this can take 6-8 weeks at peak periods. Alternatively we may have to trace and then contact the relevant landowner or occupier to request that they carry out the necessary clearance. This will often take 4-6 weeks. If the landowner does not deal with the matter in a reasonable time scale it may be necessary to issue an enforcement action. This can take considerably longer.

Any issue we consider affects public safety will be dealt with as soon as possible.

Use our online form if you need to report a problem. You can also make an enquiry about a rights of way issue.