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Where the occupier of land has ploughed or otherwise disturbed the surface of a footpath or bridleway, the path must be reinstated or made good to not less than its minimum width, so as to make it reasonably convenient for the public to use. The legislation does not set out standards for reinstatement and it is for each highway authority to decide what is acceptable. Highways Act 1980 s 134(3) (a) and (b) requires that the path:
"Convenient for use" would suggest that it is reasonably easy to walk on a relatively flat surface that is sufficiently compacted to prevent walkers sinking into the ploughed or cultivated ground without unconsolidated earth sticking to a walkers boots such that it becomes difficult to walk. Clearly however this may differ from area to area according to the nature of the soil and the topography of the land crossed by the path and it is good practice for highway authorities to issue general guidance to occupiers on what will be considered acceptable, and to offer specific advice where this is needed.
The Rights of Way Act 1990 introduced the concept of minimum and maximum widths in cases where there is no recorded width and only in circumstances of reinstatement following ploughing and cultivation. Where the width of a right of way is proven, usually by being recorded in the definitive statement, then the minimum and maximum widths for the path are the recorded width. Other types of evidence of the proven width of a path might be an inclosure award or a public path order where the path has been diverted. The 1990 Act provides for the following in circumstances where paths are being reinstated following ploughing and cropping:
The minimum and maximum widths for field-edge paths and for other highways which may not be ploughed or otherwise disturbed assist the highway authority in determining whether or not the highway has been encroached upon.
Where the ploughing or other disturbance of the surface of the path is the first agricultural operation that has been carried out in connection with sowing a crop, the occupier is allowed 14 days (sometimes called the relevant period), beginning with the day of the first ploughing (or disturbance), to reinstate the path. The relevant period of time for second or subsequent disturbance is 24 hours, beginning from the time the path was disturbed. On the application of the occupier, either before or during the relevant period, the authority may grant an extension for an additional period of not more than 28 days. Extensions may not be granted retrospectively. When dealing with ploughing and a failure to reinstate after ploughing it may be best practice for rights of way officers to assume that the day of discovery of the offence is the first day of the relevant period and wait 14 days from that day before reinstatement is required.
(1)Where in the case of any footpath or bridleway (other than a field-edge path) which passes over a field or enclosure consisting of agricultural land, or land which is being brought into use for agriculture—
(a)the occupier of the field or enclosure desires in accordance with the rules of good husbandry to plough, or otherwise disturb the surface of, all or part of the land comprised in the field or enclosure, and
(b)it is not reasonably convenient in ploughing, or otherwise disturbing the surface of, the land to avoid disturbing the surface of the path or way so as to render it inconvenient for the exercise of the public right of way,
the public right of way shall be subject to the condition that the occupier has the right so to plough or otherwise disturb the surface of the path or way.
(2)Subsection (1) above does not apply in relation to any excavation or any engineering operation.
(3)Where the occupier has disturbed the surface of a footpath or bridleway under the right conferred by subsection (1) above he shall within the relevant period, or within an extension of that period granted under subsection (8) below,—
(a)so make good the surface of the path or way to not less than its minimum width as to make it reasonably convenient for the exercise of the right of way; and
(b)so indicate the line of the path or way on the ground to not less than its minimum width that it is apparent to members of the public wishing to use it.
(4)If the occupier fails to comply with the duty imposed by subsection (3) above he is guilty of an offence and liable to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale.
(5)Proceedings for an offence under this section in relation to a footpath or bridleway shall be brought only by the highway authority or the council of the non-metropolitan district, parish or community in which the offence is committed.
(6)Without prejudice to section 130 (protection of public rights) above, it is the duty of the highway authority to enforce the provisions of this section.
(7)For the purposes of this section “the relevant period”,—
(a)where the disturbance of the surface of the path or way is the first disturbance for the purposes of the sowing of a particular agricultural crop, means fourteen days beginning with the day on which the surface of the path or way was first disturbed for those purposes; or
(b)in any other case, means twenty-four hours beginning with the time when it was disturbed.
(8)On an application made to the highway authority before the disturbance or during the relevant period, the authority may grant an extension of that period for an additional period not exceeding twenty-eight days.
(9)In this section “minimum width”, in relation to a highway, has the same meaning as in Schedule 12A to this Act.”
(4)For section 135 (temporary diversion of path or way ploughed under section 134) substitute—