Identifying the Problem
Public Rights of Way (PRoW) are highways and should be as easy to use as any public road; free to use, unobstructed and signposted where necessary. If they are not, you have a problem which will generally fall into one of these categories:
A fingerpost is mandatory where a path leaves the metalled road. It is a post with a finger (!) pointing the line of the start of the route. A wholly metalled PRoW within the urban area is the only exception to this.
Waymarking is not mandatory but helpful and should be available to guide anyone following a map but unfamiliar with the route. A plastic disc with a yellow arrow denotes footpath, blue – bridleway and red – byway. White arrows are used for permissive paths which do not concern us for reporting purposes.
A bridge should enable you to cross (usually a stream or river) safely. Report if it is missing, rotten, exceptionally and unpredictably slippery, needs a handrail (if it is high or particularly long) or blocked by growth.
Furniture can include steps (with or without a handrail), board walks, gates & stiles. They should be safe & usable. The buzzword is "least restrictive option" – gap, simple gate, kissing gate or stile? Consider whether livestock must be kept in or wildlife kept out. Sometimes highway authority barriers might be used to prevent people rushing out into traffic without thinking first. There should be no barbed wire or electric fence on a stile or within a metre or so of it – you are entitled to fall off without sustaining secondary injuries.
Ploughing & cropping. A field edge path should never be disturbed. It should be a minimum of 1.5 metres wide for a footpath, 3m for a bridleway or 5m for a byway. Note whether the problem is from ploughing, up-growth from the surface of the path (Highways responsibility) or overgrowth from adjacent hedges or land (Landowners responsibility). A crossfield path should be a minimum of one metre wide for a footpath, 2m for a bridleway or 3m for a byway. It should be obvious in direction (by clear waymarking - for instance white stakes along the route, rolled or unseeded or cut or sprayed out through the crop) and unobstructed by any crop more than a few inches high. Within 14 days of first disturbance of the path in any cropping cycle, it should be reinstated to at least the minimum width and give a firm even surface that is easy to use. Thereafter, any disturbance should be reinstated within 24 hours. A path across a meadow of grass or lucerne is exempt.
Surface condition concerns any drainage problems, potholes, animal holes and so on. Does the route of the path divert from the definitive (mapped) line? Is this a temporary or seasonal matter? There should be no obstructions on the path: buildings, reservoirs, piles of rubbish, threatening notices, electric fences etc.. If you feel threatened by animals on the route, do not attempt to pass.
Get to know your 1:25000 OS Explorer map. Can you identify which parish the problem was in? (If it is in a London borough you do not need to know.) Parish names are marked in grey capitals about 3mm high with CP after them. Parish boundaries are small black dots. County and Unitary Authority boundaries are – well, it is time to look at the map legend. You’ll find it easiest to report where you were if you can read off a grid reference – get a fellow walker to show you and remember to go "along the corridor and up the stairs". A 6 figure grid reference refers to the whole 100m square to the north and east so don’t fall into the trap of thinking the nearest number is the one to quote. It is best, though not essential, if you can give grid references for the beginning and end of the section of path you were on as well as the actual problem site. If you are outside Essex Area, do still consider making reports. Most council websites now contain details for PRoW reports.