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Reporting obstructions (England and Wales)

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What's the best thing to do if you find your favourite bridleway or byway impassable because of a fallen tree, or a gate that wasn't there before? This guide explains the process.
Obstruction on bridleway
Obstruction on bridleway

Are obstructions illegal?

  • An obstruction which is an obstruction in law is illegal, but it can also be a criminal offence to cause an obstruction. Section 137 of the Highways Act 1980 (HA 1980) makes it an offence for anyone “willfully to obstruct the free passage along a highway”, unless they have a lawful authority or excuse.
  • A lawful authority covers ‘statutory undertakers’, such as gas or water companies, who are allowed to cause obstructions in the process of carrying out their work. There is no defence of ignorance of the existence of a right of way.
  • An obstruction is an obstruction in law regardless of the type of way which it obstructs. A fallen log is equally obstructive whether it blocks a footpath, bridleway or restricted byway.
  • In certain circumstances farmers are permitted to plough over footpaths and bridleways that cross their land, but ploughing a byway or restricted byway is illegal. CTC's campaigns briefing on Bridleways, Restricted Byways and Cycle Tracks goes into this in more detail.

Penalties for obstructing the highway

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CRoW, sometimes referred to as CRWA) gave courts the power to order anyone convicted under Section 137 to remove the obstruction or face a second offence punishable by a fine up to certain amount, rising each day should the offender still refuse to comply. If the defendant is convicted of this second offence, the highway authority may remove the obstruction itself and recover costs from the offender.

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