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Could someone give me an outline, or point me in the right direction, as to how the UK rights of way have been implemented please?

I've been reviewing the OSM mapping of the existing rights of way (footpaths/bridleways) around our village and many of them are best described as "nearly but not quite".

As an example, in one instance the footpath is shown as taking a logical straight line route to the nearest adopted road when in fact the footpath actually jinks through a farm yard on a much less obvious route. These two points being about 100m apart.

My information is coming from two sources:

  1. What's actually on the ground physically
  2. The Official map of footpaths/bridleways from our local authority

So it looks to me as if the mapping of these rights of way has been implemented in OSM by someone looking at a map then estimating or approximating what will happen at the end of a right of way rather than this being done at a software level where the rights of way are automatically mapped accurately.

Sorry if I sound like I'm carping - I'm actually trying to understand so that I can work out how best to contribute. I may have been unlucky by picking three badly mapped points around our village in which case I'll persevere but if all the rights of way are done by guessing there seems little point.

Advice appreciated... Thanks.

asked 01 Aug '14, 16:41

Freewheeler69's gravatar image

accept rate: 0%

edited 05 Aug '14, 12:20

aseerel4c26's gravatar image

aseerel4c26 ♦

I think that you roughly could divide the sources used by OSM mappers in England** into 3:

  1. On-the-ground GPS traces
  2. Old out-of-copyright maps
  3. Newer sources such as OS OpenData StreetView and Bing imagery.

Going back a few years, there weren't many of (1) and (3) didn't exist yet, so footpaths then tended to be based on mostly (1) with some people drawing in "potential paths" from sources such as the "New Popular Edition" maps (2). Looking at the area that I think that you may be talking about, many of the paths there were originally added to OSM 4 or more years ago, and given the original mappers of a couple of examples, I'd suspect they were mostly from survey (one very prolific and active on-the-ground surveyor), but with a bit of guesswork too (a couple of other less-active mappers).

Since that time the availability of more more accurate GPS traces and newer data sources (that allow the sanity checking of GPS traces, and vice versa) has meant that it's been possible to map footpaths much more accurately. That's happening in many places in the UK; you may very well be the person to do it for your part of it.

In addition to Richard's legal comments one reason why I wouldn't consider a rights-of-way import particularly useful is it merely reflects what footpaths a local council thinks that it has and where they go, not what actually exists. Certainly there are some just northeast of the main town to your southwest where what's on the ground didn't match the council's data (the last time that I looked).

**and possibly elsewhere in mainland UK.

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answered 04 Aug '14, 20:18

SomeoneElse's gravatar image

SomeoneElse ♦
accept rate: 16%

edited 05 Aug '14, 12:21

aseerel4c26's gravatar image

aseerel4c26 ♦

I walk the rights of way either with the ramblers or explore them myself. I record them with a Garmin Oregon 450. I check the route against council signs and the Definitive map hosted by most county councils, and i then add them to OSM. If the path is already on the map and matches my survey fine. If it is a slightly off line and there are several traces I go with the best average. There are quite a lot of armchair mappers which is OK if the paths are accurate, but some are traced from out of copyright map backgrounds, You can use your usual check on these and most field paths are clear on Bing although the line of cross field paths can change a little from year to year as the farm worker sprays (with weed killer) to comply with the law and may go a little off line with his quad bike. I plot these as dead straight between marker posts. In my opinion it's much better to have a nice walk and survey what is on the ground. If the farmer does not reinstate the path and there is a good alternative along the field edge I do map that as well, if that is the route i take, but I don't use the designation tag for this alternative. happy mapping.

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answered 01 Aug '14, 17:41

andy%20mackey's gravatar image

andy mackey
accept rate: 4%

edited 01 Aug '14, 17:48

Thank you Andy.

So am I correct in saying there is no generalised approach to how rights of way have been mapped on OSM - i.e. they weren't all added from the definitive maps. They seem to be built up by individuals using a range of effective (and occasionally, not so effective) techniques?

(04 Aug '14, 15:35) Freewheeler69

Generally we don't have permission to copy from definitive maps. If you have written permission from the local council, including a disclaimer of any copyright interest Ordnance Survey may have in them, then you can use them. Otherwise, they're strictly out-of-bounds and on-the-ground survey is required. (On-the-ground survey is preferable for a whole host of other reasons, of course!)

(04 Aug '14, 16:09) Richard ♦

Freewheeler69 yes you are correct. As you probably know OSM is a free and open project with thousands of contributors so a bit of variation is to be expected. But your Question and the wiki must improve things...maybe

(05 Aug '14, 09:55) andy mackey

You might like to read some blog posts I've written about mapping PRoW in England and Wales to get a more in-depth picture:;; and I have compiled some maps showing differences between OSM & available Definitive Map data for the East Midlands & SE England (e.g.,

(05 Aug '14, 11:03) SK53 ♦

I've recently began to tidy and add official referance numbers of rights of way in the areas I've recently been mapping. In general I've been ground surveying and then useing bing sat/arial photomaps to get position fixes in the editor [potlatch, id and josm] and some other photomap sources for different angles when the basic vertical image is tough to read on its own due to trees and patchs of week resulution. The ground survey is what I reley on for what to map more than just trace the photo's most of the time.

When I come to working with rights of way I use the definitive mapping and description documents to judge the locations of the way and turning points on the paths as well as providing the details to give [type/referance-number {later I might maybe add official widths too, etc}]. I'm in "discusion" with another contributer but I feel I should mark what is there and in addition with fewer tags (just type that it is designated and the ref and operator) the ways that not supported by ground features but legal paths.

I avoid copying directly. but i read the official souces to work out where the waypoints are in bing etc for the official routes.

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answered 05 Aug '14, 18:46

Govanus's gravatar image

accept rate: 3%

edited 05 Aug '14, 18:49

link text an example i've been doing look at history to see changes during debate with the other contributer.

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answered 05 Aug '14, 18:58

Govanus's gravatar image

accept rate: 3%

edited 05 Aug '14, 18:59

please add this to your other answer text. Or why a extra answer?

(05 Aug '14, 20:22) aseerel4c26 ♦

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question asked: 01 Aug '14, 16:41

question was seen: 6,077 times

last updated: 05 Aug '14, 20:22

NOTICE: is no longer in use from 1st March 2024. Please use the OpenStreetMap Community Forum