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Definitive map and statement FAQs

Frequently asked questions about the definitive map and statement.



What is the definitive map?

The legal record of public rights of way maintained by the highway authority. Together with the definitive statement it provides conclusive evidence of the existence of each public right of way shown. Councils use these maps as a legal reference for searches, maintenance and enforcement of legislation. All legally existing public footpaths, public bridleways and byways open to all traffic should be shown on definitive maps, but there is still a lot of work to do to make sure that all maps are complete, accurate and up to date.

What is the definitive statement?

This is a description of public rights of way that complements the definitive map describing the position of the rights of way shown on the definitive map, usually providing details of restrictions or limitations on the public's rights. These may include a maximum width, the presence of stiles or gates, or a right to plough the path. It is conclusive in law as to the particulars given.

Is it true that a public right of way ceases to exist if it is not used for 20 years?

No - this is untrue. Public rights of way continue to exist indefinitely unless the land they cross is destroyed (for example by coastal erosion), or extinguished by a legal process. However, the opposite is true, as a public right of way can be acquired in certain circumstances where there was none previously if a route is used for 20 years (under the Highways Act 1980) or less time (if there is sufficient frequent use) under common law.

How wide is a public right of way?

The definitive map and statement only occasionally specifies the width of a path. However, sometimes there is reliable documentary evidence that indicates the width. If the path is a track or sunken lane the width will usually be the full distance between the hedges, walls or banks.
If width not known refer to rights of way act (opens in a new window) 1990 for guidance.

Can a public right of way be moved?

Footpaths and bridleways can be diverted by the landowner under the Highways Act 1980 or under the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (if the right of way has to be moved because of development and planning consent has been given).

See How can I get the definitive map changed? for more information.

Can the Definitive Map and Statement be changed?

Yes. There are several ways to change the Definitive Map and Statement - all of which require a legal process.

  • Correcting the Map - Modification Orders

Although the Definitive Map and Statement are the legal record of Rights of Way, on rare occasions paths may have been recorded in the wrong place, with the wrong status or not put on the map at all.

  • Changing the Map - Public Path Orders

Landowners may apply to:

  •     Remove a route (Extinguishment Order)
  •     Add a new route (Creation Order)
  •     Change a route (Diversion Order)

See How can I get the definitive map changed? for more information.

How can I claim a public right of way that is not shown on the definitive map?

Whilst the definitive map and statement are conclusive evidence of what they show, a route that is not shown may be a public right of way. Anyone may claim a public right of way by providing evidence and making application to the Highway Authority. The process takes several months or, in some cases, years, but is worth pursuing because a successful claim would help to protect rights for the public.

I have always ridden my horse on a path but it has a footpath sign. How can the route be changed so that is a bridleway?

It is possible to change the status of a right of way (e.g. footpath to bridleway), for example if horseriders have used a footpath for several years without being challenged by the landowner it may be possible to apply to have the footpath 'upgraded' to a bridleway.

I have been using a path for years and it has recently been blocked by a locked gate, a fence or building or there is a new private sign or someone has stopped me and told me not to use the path. What can I do about this?

Check whether the path is a public right of way.

If it is recorded as a public right of way contact the Rights of Way team to report the problem.

I've got a problem with a path on my land - can I have it closed or moved?

A landowner may apply for an extinguishment or diversion order, although certain criteria must be met and the public are allowed opportunity to object. The process can take several years and there is a cost involved.

The path that I use is not shown on my map. Does this mean that I should not be using the path?

If you are using an Ordnance Survey map these show public rights of way but there may have been changes to the network since publication of the OS map. It is advisable to check the definitive map and statement as this is the legal record of public rights of way. If the path is NOT shown on the definitive map and statement but you have been using the path for several years it may be possible to add it to the definitive map and statement.

What is a modification order?

The definitive map and statement are not always complete. Some rights of way may have been missed off the map and other paths may have been incorrectly recorded with the wrong status. These mistakes may be corrected by modification order; a formal process which modifies the definitive map and statement. Councils process orders when they come across evidence that a change is needed. However, the public may gather their own evidence and apply for an order. This often includes user evidence - evidence from people who have used a route and documentary evidence - copies of historic maps and documents.

Where can I view the definitive map and statement?

The Regulation Team office in Dorchester, during office hours, by appointment only. Please contact the Regulation Team at least two working days in advance. We are unable to accept visitors without a prior appointment.
I need more information

Contact the Regulation Team for further information.

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