This page gives advice around the responsibilities of landowners, and sources of further information.
You need to be clear about the boundaries of your property and who is responsible for maintaining the boundary features that separate your property from your neighbours’, eg fences, walls, hedges, ditches etc.. There are no general laws about who owns these or which side of the boundary feature you’re responsible for – the arrangements that apply are spelled out in title deeds and boundary agreements relating to the properties in question. Click here for further details and relevant links.
When to trim hedges. To avoid disrupting bird nesting (either by directly affecting nests, or causing nests to be abandoned due to noise disturbance) residential hedges should not be cut/trimmed between 01 March and at least 31 July (or 31 August in the case of most agricultural hedges). It is an offence under Section 1 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981 to intentionally take, damage or destroy the nest of any wild bird while it is in use or being built. So, you know there is an active nest in the hedge and still cut the hedge, damaging or destroying the nest in the process, that is an offence. If you become aware of such a case, it can be reported to Sussex Police, the RSPB or Horsham District Council.
Issues relating to boundary hedges. You must try to settle a dispute about a high hedge informally before seeking external intervention. If informal steps have failed and the hedge meets these criteria:
- 2 or more mostly evergreen or semi-evergreen trees or shrubs
- over 2 metres tall
- affecting your enjoyment of your home or garden because it’s too tall
Your contact for further steps would be HDC’s Arboricultural Office (Development).
Trimming hedges or trees near boundaries. You can trim branches or roots that cross into your property from a neighbour’s property or a public road. You can only trim up to the property boundary. If you do more than this, your neighbour could take you to court for damaging their property. If you live in a conservation area, or the trees in the hedge are protected by a tree preservation order, you might need your council’s permission to trim them.
If your hedge/trees are obstructing a road or pavement. If this is the case you may receive a communication from your Parish Council, asking you to undertake trimming to remove the obstruction/nuisance. If you refuse, the matter is likely to be referred to the Highways authority. A request from Highways that you to cut back hedges or trees on your property is backed up by power to go into your property without your permission to do the work themselves. They may charge you for this.
‘Watercourse’ is the general term for rivers, streams, ditches, drains, culverts, pipes and any other passage through which water may flow, whether natural or man-made. People with watercourses on, next to or under their property are known as ‘riparian owners’. Riparian owners have the responsibility for maintenance of these watercourses. Riparian responsibilities usually lie with the person who owns the land or property but may be the tenant depending upon the agreement in place.
Properly maintaining ditches and other watercourses on your property – in particular by regular dredging – is very important to preventing flooding of your own and neighbouring properties, and adjacent roads and footpaths. Flooded roads are not just an inconvenience; when deep standing puddles freeze they pose a serious danger to motorists and pedestrians. WSCC publish relevant guidance on managing flood risks including this useful detailed guide.
Responsibilities relating to Rights of Way and access
Trees and vegetation (see also Hedges under Boundaries)
Landowners and managers are responsible for the maintenance of side vegetation, such as hedges and trees, on or by the side of a public right of way, to ensure that it does not encroach onto the public path. Any necessary surface vegetation clearance, which is the responsibility of the County Council, is assessed during the routine inspection cycle.
When a tree or branch has come down on a public right of way it is the landowner/manager’s responsibility to clear the debris. If works need to be undertaken on a tree, a Temporary Path Closure needs to be in place; check to ensure the trees concerned are not subject to a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). To find out more about TPOs, and what trees are covered by existing TPOs, you can search either via this WSCC facility or this HDC page.
Any branches overhanging a right of way should not obstruct users, and have a minimum height clearance of 3.75 metres on bridleways. Enquiries can be made to establish ownership of trees by contacting the Land Registry. Where a tree/overhanging branches present an immediate hazard to path users, please contact the WSCC Public Rights of Way Team.
- Bulls in fields are regulated by specific rules relating to age, breed and presence of cows/heifers. Bull warning notices should only be displayed at an entrance to a field when a bull is present. At all other times the notice should be removed. See the further WSCC guidance.
- Dogs should not be allowed to intimidate path users such that passage along the route is effectively prevented. Behaviour that constitutes a public nuisance includes snarling, barking in a threatening manner, running around and jumping up. While dogs are allowed on enclosed land adjacent to the Public Right of Way, if their behaviour is deemed to be a nuisance, the landowner will be asked to alter the situation to stop this. It is illegal for a dog known to be dangerous to be allowed to roam at large on any highway. If a dog causes an injury, the owner may be liable.
Building and buying near a right of way
- All recorded public rights of way are shown on the Definitive Map and Statement, which is the legal record of public rights of way. Landowners must not deter use by the public in any way, for example by blocking the route, altering waymarkers or through the use of misleading or deterrent signs. There are legal processes that must be completed if you want to make changes to the public rights of way network that crosses your land. In addition to any public rights of way that cross your land, you may decide to create a new path, either formally or informally.
- Planning permission alone does not allow a right of way to be obstructed or moved in any way – this includes construction works, which must not interfere with a right of way or pose any risk to path users.
- If a diversion/extinguishment of a right of way is necessary to enable a development to take place, an application for diversion should to made to the relevant planning authority well in advance of the start of the work.
- All public rights of way must remain open and available for public use at all times unless the relevant legal steps have been undertaken.
- The temporary closure of a public right of way is a legal process, and is done only where it is absolutely necessary and there is a danger to public safety that cannot be designed out.
- Once any work is completed, the legal, definitive line of the public right of way must be available for use on the ground.
For more information about the planning application process, and the process for permanent diversion or extinguishment of a public path required as a result of planning permission, please contact Horsham District Council Planning Department. See also the parish’s guidance on the Planning Process.
Ploughing and cropping The occupier of agricultural land may disturb (for a limited time) the surface of a footpath or bridleway that crosses a field or enclosure, but only if it is necessary to do so. You must not disturb or plough the surface if it is:
- reasonably avoidable
- a restricted byway, Byway Open To All Traffic or any other unsurfaced highway
- a headland or field-edge path.
- You may disturb a footpath or bridleway for excavation or engineering operations but only after gaining written permission from WSCC PROW Team.
Route reinstatement After the surface of a footpath or bridleway has been disturbed, there is a duty to restore the legal line. This must be done:
- within 14 days of the first disturbance in any cycle of cultivation
- within 24 hours of any subsequent disturbances.
Extensions may be sought from the Public Rights of Way Team.
Following disturbance, the surface of the path needs to be clearly reinstated so that it is reasonably convenient to use and apparent on the ground. This may include putting up signs to direct people across the land that has been disturbed. Reinstatement must meet the following minimum width specifications, unless a different width is defined in the definitive map and statement:
- Cross-field footpaths = 1 metre
- Cross-field bridleways = 2 metres
Crops encroaching on paths There is a duty to prevent any crop, other than grass, from growing on or encroaching from the side reducing the minimum width of any public right of way.
Driving vehicles It is an offence to drive unauthorised on a public footpath, public bridleway or restricted byway. Where a landowner has a right to use or allow use of pubic rights of way for private access, the following considerations must be given:
- The private right must not damage the surface of the public right of way causing it to be unfit or inconvenient for use by the public.
- Where damage or wear occurs as a result of the exercise of a private right, the landowner is liable to reinstate the surface of the path to at least the pre-existing standard.
- A landowner wishing to undertake work to the surface of a public right of way must first gain the consent of the County Council. A specification of the proposed new surface and the extent and type of work will need to be submitted. Such work may also require a temporary path closure.
Structures/fencing and maintenance responsibilities
Structures. The general guidance relating to structures across public rights of way is that they should be as few as possible, restrict access as little as possible, and be in a good state of repair. In general WSCC policy is to replace stiles with pedestrian and kissing gates. The Highways Act 1980 places the responsibility of the maintenance of existing structures on public rights of way with the landowner. Applications for new structures need to be made to the County Council, and are only considered on the grounds of either stock control or user safety.
Fencing. No fencing of any kind may be constructed to encroach into the width of a public right of way. Warning signs must be displayed at regular intervals where electric fencing is used. If a temporary electric fence needs to cross the line of a public footpath, insulated handles must be provided to allow people to pass through and continue along the legal line of the path. Electric fencing must not be installed across or adjacent to bridleways, restricted byways or byways open to all traffic as it presents a serious hazard to horses. Barbed wire should be covered, or barbs removed, near structures such as stiles and gates. Barbed wire, or any other metal structure that is not part of a fence (for example, handrail on a bridge), should not be electrified.