United Kingdom Tagging Guidelines

From OpenStreetMap Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Welcome! Finding the best tag to use can be challenging at times. This page aims to provide simple yet comprehensive guidance for all users helping with mapping the United Kingdom. Being specific to the UK, allows us to go into more depth and provide more information than possible on the global tag descriptions.

Note: There are currently two schemes in use for UK footpaths, cyclepaths and bridleways. It is of personal preference as to which makes the most sense and which you should use. For more info see #Classic vs Alternative tagging schemes.

Copyright Infringement

It is vital for the public reputation and long-term viability of the map that the OSM database never infringes Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) belonging to other people or organisations. The main forms of IPR here are copyright and database right.

These guidelines are for mapping in the United Kingdom. The linked pages contain more detailed analysis:

  • The number one best way to avoid breaking copyright is to go outside and survey it yourself. When you signed up for an OSM account you (probably) agreed to the Contributor Terms so that all your contributions are granted to the OSMF under a worldwide, royalty-free, non-exclusive, perpetual, irrevocable licence. In turn, they licence everyone else in the world to use it.
  • Copyright issues can be subtle. By being very strict about data sources we ensure that data from OSM can be used without question.

Important prohibitions

  • Ordnance Survey produce highly detailed maps of the UK. Their work is government property under 'Crown copyright' and cannot be copied. (The only exception is old maps that are out of copyright: see below.)
  • Many organisations obtain a licence from Ordnance Survey to use data products in their own work, for example local councils under the Public Sector Mapping Agreement (PSMA) or One Scotland Mapping Agreement (OSMA).
    • These organisations frequently lay their own data over an OS map, and they have ownership of the intellectual property in that data because they produced it.
    • However, because the overlaid data is usually mapped against features already found in the OS map, OS usually considers overlaid data to be 'derived data' and claims that OS simultaneously has its own rights in it.
    • 'Derived data' cannot be copied: even if the other organisation gives its permission, OS's permission is also required.
    • Data that is independently surveyed/produced and overlaid on an OS map without the OS map contributing to the way the data was constructed is not 'derived data' and can be copied/imported (but of course the underlying OS map cannot).
    • Determining whether data was derived or not can be contentious, so organisations can apply for a declaration from OS that it considers that no derived data is included and they can then publish their own data under an Open Government Licence (OGL), or any other licence of their choosing, without fear of disputes with OS.
    • As local councils are provided with OS products for free under the PSMA they mostly default to using it. This causes issues if/when they publish geographical Open Data.

Important rights and exceptions

  • Ordnance Survey maps published more than 50 years ago are out of copyright and can be used by anyone for any purpose.
  • Copyrighted Ordnance Survey maps can be used as a research tool. For example, you may use an OS map to find a public bridleway, complete a ground survey to confirm its existence and route, then enter it into OSM using your own generated information. However, the access provisions themselves (e.g., public footpath, bridleway etc) cannot be copied from an OS or other copyrighted map. So if you complete a ground survey and find that a track is marked as bridleway at one end but footpath at another (these sorts of things do happen!) tag as a public footpath, but add a fixme tag: you may not use the OS map to 'adjudicate'.
  • UK Government Open Data consists many datasets. These are often published under the Open Government Licence (OGL). They can be used in OSM, however this licence does not guarantee that the data provided is untainted by copyright. Any dataset should be questioned via Talk-GB and/or the OSMF Licence Working Group.
  • An address/postcode from a web site contact page. For a shop/restaurant/store/etc. with a single site or a small group, say up to about half a dozen premises, then you can use the address(es) listed on their official website. They are published un-copyrightable facts. For chains with multiple stores the addresses of each branch may be regarded as forming part of a database. They are then covered under database rights and cannot be added to OSM unless you get specific permission from the business. [1]
  • The UK Food Hygiene Rating Scheme is an example of OGL data that has been checked and ratified. The addresses/postcodes held in it can be used in OSM. The locations are postcode centroids generated from PAF-based geocoding and should only be used as a guide.

UK roads

Also see Road signs in the United Kingdom.

Description Tag
Motorways highway=motorway
A-roads with primary status (signed yellow on green) highway=trunk
A-roads with non-primary (secondary) status (signed black on white) highway=primary
B-roads highway=secondary
Busy unclassified through roads
(Generally used only on roads wide enough to allow two cars to pass safely where adequate road markings are in place; may have unsigned categories such as C, D or U: see Tagging Road Numbers, below)
Other (i.e., not in the above classes) non-residential roads in towns. Examples include; minor shopping streets, roads in commericial districts, and public roads in industrial areas. highway=unclassified
Country lanes highway=unclassified
Residential roads
(Used only on roads that have no other function other than for residential purposes)
Service roads
(driveways, carpark entrance roads, private roads, bus-only roads, etc). Please remember access=* and service=* where applicable
Private roads highway=* access=private
Track (Larger than a path; generally big enough to fit a vehicle down).
Use in conjunction with tracktype=*.
Byway deprecated as of 2010-08.

Reference: List of deprecated features.


Tagging Road Numbers

The ref=* tag should only be used on roads which are signposted with a national official number. These are Motorways, A-roads, B-roads and, in a very small number of special cases, some roads signposted by the local authority with a C-prefix.

In all other cases, such as use of road numbers from highway authorities statutory lists, use either official_ref=* or admin_ref=*. If you do want to use this latter information, please ensure that your source is compatible with OdBL.

Unpaved Country Roads

Ford on Red Lodge Road, Marefield

In a number of places there exist designated public highways which are unpaved and not regularly unmaintained by the local highway authority. They usually look like tracks, and only detailed local knowledge is likely to uncover that their status is different. Known examples include Red Lodge Road way 198802841 & Blackspinney Lane way 195159159 in Leicestershire. It is recommended that these be mapped as highway=track even though the highway authority may record them as unclassified roads. Additional tags which should be added are access=yes, surface=*, tracktype=* and, possibly, designation=public_highway. In many areas such roads & tracks have been formally designated as byways or restricted byways and the tagging is then straightfoward.

Pedestrian access

Image Description Classic tagging style Alternative tagging style
Urban walkway.jpg
A path intended for pedestrian usage. highway=footway;
surface=* recommended;
surface=* recommended

Cycle paths

In the UK, cycle paths are differentiated based on whether they are within the carriageway (cycle lanes) or separate from the carriageway (cycle tracks). Cycle lanes are split according to whether they are with-flow on contra-flow lanes. Different signs and marking are also used to indicate each category.

With-flow cycle Lanes

A mandatory with-flow cycle lane

Cycle lanes within the carriageway are marked out by a painted boundary line on the road surface. The cycle lane may be "Mandatory" or "Advisory". The key differences are as follows:

  • Mandatory
    • Marked with a continuous / solid boundary line.
    • An order prohibits other vehicles from encroaching on the lane (this includes for waiting & loading).
    • Signed with diagram 959.1, which is repeated at every junction (or 300m).
    • May be time restricted.
  • Advisory
    • Marked with a broken / dashed hazard warning line.
    • Signed with diagram 967, which is repeated at every junction (or 300m).
    • Applies at all times.

For more info see the cycleway tag.

Contra-flow cycle Lanes


Cycle Tracks

A cycle track may or may not follow a road. For those that are adjacent to a road, in contrast to lanes, a cycle track is physically separate from the main road carriageway. The separation may be a kerb, barrier/wall, strip of grass or just a row of parked cars.

To map a cycle track adjacent to a road you may add the cycleway tag to the highway, however it is generally accepted that drawing the cycle track as a separate way allows greater flexibility. Please note that when using highway=cycleway, omitting the surface=* tag implies it is paved and when using highway=path, omitting the surface=* tag implies it is unpaved. Note also that explicitly tagging surface is always better, especially as for bicycles some unpaved surfaces (compacted) are better than some paved ones (cobblestones). Pedestrian use is also assumed, therefore you do not need to add a foot=* access tag unless pedestrian use is expressly forbidden.

Tags for cycle tracks drawn as a separate way
Image Description Classic tagging style Alternative tagging style
UK traffic sign 956.svg
Shared cycle/pedestrian path highway=cycleway highway=path;
UK traffic sign 957.svg

UK traffic sign 957R.svg
Segregated cycle/pedestrian path highway=cycleway;
cycleway=lane; (implies bicycle=designated)
UK traffic sign 955.svg
Cycle only path (not intended for pedestrians) highway=cycleway;

* : The route is not intended for pedestrians, but use is not prohibited. Before tagging as foot=no please check that there is a convenient alternative route for pedestrians nearby (e.g. a footway or road).

See also: Cycle routes, Bicycle, cycleway=*.


If the bridleway follows either a track, unclassified road or service road, then tag it as such. Otherwise:

Image Description Classic UK tagging style Alternative global tagging style
PENDING A path intended for horseriders.
Please note: omitting the surface=* tag implies it is unpaved
highway=bridleway; highway=path;

† : Correct for bridleways that are legal Right of Ways in England & Wales.

Tagging Access Provisions

A "Public Footpath" provides a legal right to pedestrian access.

In the United Kingdom access to land and ways (footpaths, bridleways etc.) may be provided by a statutory legal right of access, or a by permissive access provisions. To record these we add a designation=* or access=permissive tag. For example, to tag a "Public Footpath" first map out the way using either the Classic or Alternative tag scheme and then add the relevant tag as recommended on the UK access provisions page.

Note: This reduces the need to add access=* tags to those unusual cases where a Traffic Regulation Order further restricts access rights of the route is physically unpassable by certain traffic types.

Classic vs Alternative tagging schemes

There are currently two schemes in use for footpaths, cycle tracks and bridleways. It is of personal preference as to which makes the most sense and which you should use. Each have their pros and cons.


Implied tag values when using highway=* in the UK (unless over-ridden)
Tag Highway=
footway bridleway cycleway
surface unpaved unpaved paved
foot designated designated designated
horse no designated no
bicycle no yes designated
vehicle no no no

The original method uses so-called duck tagging: if a path is used as a footway and looks like a footway, you tag it as highway=footway. (Similarly highway=cycleway, highway=bridleway and so on). Access rights are inferred from the tag (and country) with additional specific access tags added as required:


  • Fewer tags are needed.
  • Is the original method so already prevalent.


An alternative scheme uses granular tags added to a basic highway=path tag. When used in the UK, it implies "A generic narrow path that is used in conjunction with access tags and a designation=* tag where applicable" and surface=unpaved


  • Access rights are defined and unambiguous and are separate from the physical attributes.


  • More tags are usually required.
  • If additional access tags are not added, it is unclear who is permitted to use the route.
  • If additional surface tags are not added, it is unclear whether the route is suitable for different users.
  • Not convincingly supported by major renderers. The standard map style at OpenStreetMap.org, and the OpenCycleMap style, will both show highway=path; foot=designated;bicycle=designated;horse=designated;designation=public_bridleway in the style that is familiar for cycleways, rather than in a bridleway style.

See access for more information.

See also

  • citation required