Frequently Asked Questions

Ploughing and Cropping

Tractor and ploughThe 1990 Rights of Way Act

The Devon County Council, Public Rights of Way Warden for East Devon has put foward some guidelines of how to tackle the problem of the line of a path being ploughed or cropped:

  1. It is sometimes difficult for people to appreciate the severity of the problem of ploughed and cropped paths, it is not a permanent obstruction, but for the time that the crop is growing it has the same effect as if there was a locked gate or a hedge across the path. If people do try to battle through, they will get soaked if there has been heavy dew, or lost if the crop is maize!

  2. When I approach a farmer about a cropped path it is sometimes difficult to get the message across to them, and I hear all sorts of good excuses .-" Oh but its only for a few months "...-" Well if they want to tread the crop down its up to them" - "but no-one uses this path "- one farmer said to me the other day "Well, if people had any manners they would walk around the edge". The answer to that could be "Well, if people had any manners, they wouldn't crop the path in the first place". However, it is not a question of manners, it's a question of the 1990 Rights of Way Act.

  3. Photo of cross field pathThis Act inserted a new section - (No 137a for those who are in need of some scintillating bedtime reading) - into the 1980 Highways Act. Previous to this Highway Authority's powers were very limited as far as dealing with crops on paths.

  4. The Act states that: The farmer must not plough a headland footpath or bridleway (that's one that runs along the hedge).

  5. Nor plough a crossfield path if it can be avoided - as this photo shows it can be done.

    He must not plough a byway or an unclassified county road AT ALL. Once a path has been ploughed it must be reinstated within fourteen days, basically this means that it must be rolled and the line of the path marked - usually with tyre tracks.

  6. The path must be kept clear of growing crops:

    The minimum widths are:

    1 metre for a crossfield footpath
    2 metres for a crossfield bridleway
    1.5 metres for a headland path
    3 metres for a headland bridleway

  7. Photo of maize cropThe full width must be kept clear and not just the wheel tracks.

  8. Devon County Council is coming under constant pressure to ensure that farmers DO comply with this law, sometimes unfortunately the friendly approach is just ignored. If this continues, the recalcitrant farmer must expect to be served with a Statutory Notice from the County Council, this would legally oblige him to reinstate the path or clear a standing crop. If this is not completed within the required time limit then the County Council may carry out the work and recover the cost from the farmer. If the problem recurs it may mean an appearance in court, a fine or even imprisonment. As you can imagine these are not popular moves, none of this will sustain or improve the delicate relationships that we all fostering BUT there is no excuse for not complying with the law. We can help by promoting and encouraging the farmers to fulfil their legal obligations. It is much less painful to clear off a shooting crop than for the County Council to cut it down when it is fully grown.


Click for information about the rights and responsibilities of landowners and farmers.