What are public rights of way?

Often in use for hundreds of years and sometimes following medieval field boundaries, public rights of way offer many opportunities for getting into the heart of the countryside. Suffolk has one of the most extensive networks of public rights of way in Britain with over 5,000km of paths, and 10,000 hectares of open access and Forestry Commission land. You are never far from a walk!

Public rights of way are paths which the public have a legally protected right to use.

Within Suffolk, Suffolk County Council records, maintains, protects, signs and promotes the public rights of way network.

There are four different types of public rights of way:


  • Public footpath – this should only be used by people on foot, or using a mobility vehicle. The majority of the network in Suffolk is public footpath.
  • Public bridleway – in addition to people on foot, bridleways may also be used by someone on a horse or someone riding a bicycle.
  • Restricted byway – this has similar status to a bridleway, but can also be used by a ‘non-motorised vehicle’, for example a horse and carriage.
  • Byway open to all traffic (BOAT) – these can be used by all vehicles, including motorised vehicles as well as people on foot, on horse or on a bicycle. On occasion a BOAT can have a Traffic Regulation Order applied. This restricts certain types of use for all or part of the year and the restriction will be clearly signed. Landowners and land managers can apply for a vehicle permit for access on the BOAT for their work.


Ordnance Survey Maps and The Definitive Map and Statement

The Definitive Map and Statement is a record of the status and alignment of all rights of way. This information is provided to the Ordnance Survey who use it to compile their maps. It is the Ordnance Survey maps that you will no doubt be familiar with.

A public right of way can be created or have its status or alignment changed through proof of use or the discovery of historic evidence. There is a formal process to make changes to the definitive map. The evidence needed to claim a route is normally proof of 20 years or more uninterrupted use. This has to be on a regular basis by a number of people, typically 6 or more members of the general public, and without having to ask permission.

If you have any queries about the Definitive Map and Statement you can contact the Definitive Map Team at Suffolk County Council by emailing Definitive.Maps@suffolk.gov.uk.

Open Access

Open Access is land where you have the right to roam freely without having to stay to set paths, such as public rights of way. Open Access may be mountain, moorland, heathland or down and can also be registered common land or land that has been formally dedicated as open access by the owner. Open Access land offers you the right of access on foot, but there is no right to ride a horse or bike or to take a vehicle on to this land.

In Suffolk, there are 2 main areas of Open Access land; the Brecks, on either side of the A11 between Barton Mills and Thetford, and the east between Woodbridge and Southwold. All sites are clearly shown on OS Maps. In addition, the Forestry Commission has dedicated Thetford, Rendlesham, Tunstall and Dunwich Forests as Open Access land.

For more information on Open Access visit Natural England's Open Access website.

Taking your dog on a public right of way or open access land

Dogs are allowed on public rights of way, but they must be kept under close control in the vicinity of livestock. This is generally taken to mean on a lead or easily called to heel. You should also remember that, just like the person walking with them, they only have a right to be on the right of way and not to run off on to private land or cause a nuisance to wildlife or livestock.

You may take a dog onto Open Access land but between 1st March and 31st July it must be kept on a fixed lead less than two metres long. This is to protect wildlife during the breeding season. Some sites are also closed completely during summer months because the wildlife that is present is particularly sensitive to disturbance. Notices at the entrances to the site will explain this.

Permissive Access

There are other routes in the countryside that are not public rights of way, but are permissive routes. These have been made available by permission of the landowner but can be closed at any time.

Some permissive routes are shown on Ordnance Survey maps, but not all of them and the county council does not keep a record of them and is not responsible for their maintenance. They are usually available to walkers and occasionally to people on horseback. Local signs will explain and describe each route in detail.

Some permissive routes have been created as part of the Countryside Stewardship Scheme. In Suffolk there are over 100 of these conservation walks and rides and details of these can be located at the DEFRA (Government Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Natural England website.


Footpath signs
Footpath sign
Footpath sign
Footpath sign
Restricted Byway sign