Naturenet: Ploughing, cropping and rights of way
Ploughing, cropping
and rights of way

M Tractorany public rights of way cross working arable farmland. This means that the farmer will need to plant and harvest the crop, often from the very same land the right of way passes over. This can cause conflict, as ploughing up a right of way can make the surface much harder to use, and of course the crop itself can present a considerable obstacle. If you entered a field of maize along a right of way which had not been cleared, for example, it might be impossible to even see where to go, let alone force your way through the entire crop.

Most farmers are sensible about this and respect the rights of way across the land they work. A common-sense approach and the farmer's local knowledge mean that in most cases visitors using the rights of way are not inconvenienced by the process of farming - nor is the farmer inconvenienced by visitors causing damage unwittingly. However, a sizeable minority of landowners and farmers do not always take this approach, and there are some legal provisions to try to resolve this conflict.

Ploughing and cultivating the surface of a ROW

A landowner must not plough or disturb the surface of:

A landowner may plough or otherwise disturb a ROW if it is not convenient to avoid it. But if they do so:

A landowner may also disturb a ROW during other operations such as excavation or engineering, but in this case they must have written permission from the Highway Authority. If the disturbance is serious the Authority may insist upon a diversion order, which is usually made at the expense of the landowner.


Crops (except grass) must not overhang the minimum width of a right of way so as to inconvenience those using the highway, or to obscure the line of the right of way to anyone using it.

Minimum width

A footpath or other right of way, or a part of it, may have its width defined in the documentation associated with the Definitive Map. Such documentation is held by the Highway Authority and is publicly available. Some rights of way are defined as remarkably wide strips - as much as 30m. However, the majority of paths do not have a width defined. In this case the following general widths apply only in the case of ploughing and reinstatement (this does not mean that all paths must be this wide everywhere else):