Naturenet: Rights of Way Definitive Maps
Rights of Way
Definitive Maps


Ordnance Surveyhe information in this section is based on "A Guide to Definitive Map Procedures" available from the Countryside AgencyPages marked with this symbol are exclusively written for Naturenet. This booklet is free. The web version was partly copied from a page by Mike Cattell (no longer online that we can find).

What is a definitive map?

WalkingA definitive map is a map prepared by a surveying authority which is a legal record of the public's rights of way in one of four categories (footpath, bridleway, road used as a public path or byway open to all traffic). If a way is shown on the map, then that is legal, or conclusive, evidence that the public had those rights along the way at the relevant date of the map (and has them still, unless there has been a legally authorised change). But the reverse is not true. So the showing of a way as a footpath does not prove that there are not, for example, additional unrecorded rights for horseriders to use the way. Nor is the fact that a way is not shown at all on the definitive map proof that the public has no rights over it.

The definitive map is therefore useful in providing evidence of the public's rights, but may not tell the whole story. A check should be made with the surveying authority to see if it has reason to believe that there are additional rights, as yet unrecorded, over any particular area of land. This can be especially important if the land is for sale or is the subject of a planning application for development.

Definitive maps have to be compiled for all of England (and Wales) except the 12 inner London boroughs.

The definitive statement

The map is accompanied by a statement which describes each right of way in greater or lesser detail. If the statement defines the position or width of a right of way shown on the map, then that information is conclusive evidence of the position or width of the public's right of way at the relevant date. Similarly, if the statement contains details of any limitation or condition attached to the public's rights, then that too is conclusive evidence of the existence of such a limitation or condition at the relevant date. As with the definitive map, there may be additional limitations or conditions on the public's rights, as yet unrecorded.

The relevant date

Each definitive map and statement has a 'relevant date'. The evidence that the map provides of the existence of public rights is evidence that they existed at that date. lt is possible that a legal change, for example the diversion of a way, has happened since the relevant date. Needless to say, the longer ago the 'relevant date', the more likely it is that this has happened. In such a case the definitive map and statement should have been amended by order and the change will have its own, later, relevant date. Details of the change should be available for public inspection with the map and statement. If you are in doubt about whether, or how, the map and statement have been changed in this way, please ask the surveying authority for further information.

Which Councils are Surveying Authorities?

The surveying authority is usually the county council or metropolitan district council for the area. In some counties, district councils act as agents for the county council, but the responsibility remains with the county council. In Greater London the surveying authority is the London borough council, although the twelve inner London borough councils and the City of London do not have to have a definitive map. In those areas where unitary authorities have been created, the unitary authority is also the surveying authority.

How can I find out which ways are included on the definitive map?

The map and statement must be available for the public to inspect free of charge at all reasonable hours. A telephone call to the surveying authority will tell you in which office you will find the map. In addition, in each district in a county there must be available for inspection a copy of at least that part of the map and statement which covers the district, and the orders which have amended it: this will often be available at the district council offices. Furthermore, parish councils normally have a copy of that part of the map and statement which covers their parish.

Some libraries have copies of definitive maps and statements for inspection.

Finally, the definitive maps are used by Ordnance Survey to provide the rights of way information that is shown on Landranger (1:50,000 scale) maps (in red) and Pathfinder and Outdoor Leisure (1:25,000) maps (in green). However, in case of dispute, reference should be made to the definitive map rather than the Ordnance Survey map, which cannot in itself provide conclusive evidence.