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Rights of Way

Bournemouth has nearly 37km of Public Rights of Way, many of which offer a chance to explore some of the beautiful countryside. The network provides public access to Bournemouth’s many attractions and offers shortcuts from one road to another.

What is a Public Right of Way?

A public right of way is a route recorded on the Definitive Map and Statement. The routes travel throughout the conurbation. They give the public the right to pass and repass. They are split into 4 categories.

  • Footpath – pedestrian (wheelchairs/mobility scooters included);
  • Bridleway – pedestrian, equestrian and cyclists. Usually not a bound surface;
  • Restricted byway – pedestrian, equestrian, cyclists and horse and carriage;
  • Byway (open to all traffic) – all of the above and mechanically propelled vehicles.

What are the Council’s responsibilities?

  • To assert and protect the public’s enjoyment of all their highways;
  • Prevent unlawful encroachment;
  • Prevent any unlawful obstruction;
  • Prevent stopping up paths against the public interest;
  • Keep the Definitive Map and Statement under continuous review.

What are Your rights and responsibilities?

Some examples of the many legal rights and responsibilities of the general public are listed below:

  • Lack of use has no effect on the legal existence of a Right of Way;
  • 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 horseriders 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.

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.

A map of the Adopted Highway and Public Rights of Way can be viewed in person at the Customer Service Centre, Poole and Bournemouth Rights of WayTeam,  Transportation Services, St. Johns House, Serpentine Road, Poole

Report it

Maintenance and enforcement is a Council role and you can help by reporting if a route is obstructed, unclear or you were challenged using it in accordance with its status with as many details as possible to Poole Borough Council or Bournemouth Borough Council (as appropriate).

Countryside Code

The Countryside Code, like the Highway Code, is the law of 'give and take' guidance that confirms your rights and responsibilities when enjoying the countryside.

For example: On Access Land (the 'right' to roam comes with responsibilities) and Open Country (locally mostly heathland) you must not disturb protected wildlife (Countryside Act 2000) and dogs to be kept on short leads between 1 March & 31 July to protect wildlife from disturbance during the nesting season.

Open Access Land

The Right to Roam is a familiar term, though not an accurate one, for walking across Access Land in the countryside.

Open Access Land (Common Land and Open Country) is identified on the new Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps, available for around £7.99 (2009) from local tourist information centres in Bournemouth and Poole.

You have a right to walk across Access Land but you cannot wander wherever you like and there are some limits for health & safety, privacy and conservation reasons. Walkers have a duty to be careful of the wildlife in the area. 'Access Rights' do not extend to within 20 metres of a house. The right to 'walk' includes a right to use a manual or mechanical disability vehicle, although the terrain and barriers may not always make the route suitable. Restrictions might apply and are shown on the maps in red.

The majority of Access Land in the Borough of Poole and Bournemouth Borough Council are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as are many of the Nature Reserves in Poole and Bournemouth.

Access rights means, as walkers in the countryside, we all have a responsibility to the wildlife. Ground nesting birds, adders and other protected species live, breed and nest on heathland in Poole. Disturbing or harming a protected bird, reptile or mammal is an offence, whether done on purpose or by being careless. This includes allowing your dog to disturb a rare animal. It also means you must not get too close to birds or reptiles making them seek cover or abandon their nests.

Only licensed ecologists from recognised organisations can get close to these rare animals to do surveys, monitor or move them to safer habitat.

Land holders can apply to restrict access in the short or long term for safety, farming or conservation reasons. The restriction applications are sent to the Dorset Local Access Forum for recommendations, although the final decision rests with Natural England.