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Under the Highways Act a path or way can be presumed to be a highway if it has been enjoyed by the public as of right and without interruption for a period of 20 years. This presumption applies unless there is sufficient evidence that there was no intention on the part of the landowner to dedicate such a way.
The normal way of proving intention is to erect signs in order to make it clear that no right of access or use is granted. However, if a claim comes forward it is often difficult to provide documentary evidence when signs are frequently removed or defaced.
The most effective way to provide evidence is to deposit a map of your land holding with any existing rights of way indicated (if any), and follow it up with a declaration to the Rights of Way Authority. There is a fee payable, and your deposit will be publicised on the council's web site and on the actual land.
The effect of the deposit, if accepted, is to draw a line in the sand for any claims (unless a period of 20 years as of right has accrued prior to deposit of the notice).This is then followed up by further declarations at 20 year periods to continue the protection.
This is a valuable procedure for landowners to protect their interests rather than relying on locating evidence retrospectively if a claim of a right of way is subsequently made.