Footpaths running across farmland, and through woods, may once have come into existence for local people going about their business; but now the right to use them for recreational purposes applies to the public at large.
To prevent them from becoming overgrown and lost, footpaths and bridleways are nowadays recorded on a Definitive Map and Statement maintained by the relevant local authority.
The existence of a footpath does not mean that walkers can roam at large over the land in question. However, they may do so if the land is common land. (See our separate headings for Common land and Town and village greens.)
Legislation in recent times has designated large areas of privately-owned land as “open land”, and subject to a public right to roam. The law also lays down rules about when land may be closed to protect livestock, control of dogs, and other matters.