Access To The British Countryside
It may surprise some of you to learn that you cannot legally walk wherever you like in the British countryside and different restrictions apply to different
parts of the United Kingdom.
There are number of designated areas / rights of way each with their own access regulations:
- Byways : officially referred to by their full name "Byways Open to All Traffic"or "BOAT's". As the name implies these are open to all vehicles.
- Forestry Commission Land : generally open to walkers where there is no conflict with its commercial activities.
- Military Training Areas : closed to public access on firing / training days, red flags and / or lights are used to mark out the restricted areas on
- Open Access land : designated areas of uncultivated common land, downland, heath, mountain,
woodland and land alongside waterways that can be used for
walking, running, watching wildlife and climbing. Any farmland
gardens or other similar private areas within the access land boundary are excluded. Land managers can legally close off parts of it for up to 28 days per
year. Closures can also be enforced during high fire risk periods but you are still permitted to use Public Rights of Way.
Access restrictions can also be imposed legally for:
- game shooting on shoot days between 12th August and 10th December and
- deer stalking while stalking is taking place between 1st July and 15th February.
- Permissive paths and bridleways : paths, tracks or routes open to public use at the discretion of the landowner, access permission can be withdrawn
at any time and they are closed occasionally to prevent re classification as Public Rights of Way.
- Public Bridleways : paths, tracks or routes open to walkers, horse riders and cyclists.
- Public Footpaths : narrow paths or routes that can only be used legally by walkers.
- Restricted Byways : tracks or roads open to all non-motorised vehicles.
Public footpaths, public bridleways, restricted byways and BOAT's should all be signed at junctions with metalled roads and are often also signed at other key
Public Rights of Way can be and sometimes are changed, closed or new ones created; so to make sure you don't commit a trespass make sure you have the most up to
date version of the map for the area of your intended walk. Those shown on OS Explorer and landranger maps are taken as proof of a legal right of way on the
date the map was printed.
There is one condition under which all designated areas / Rights of Way except public metalled highways can be and usually are closed completely; that is the
outbreak of "Foot and Mouth" disease. The closed area applying to a wide "buffer" zone as well as the area of infection itself. The last major outbreak in 2001
affected the whole country.
Dogs should be "under close control" ideally on a short lead (one that is no more than 2 metres (6½ft) long) between 1 March and 31 July to protect
ground-nesting birds and at all times around livestock even on official Public Rights of Way.
England and Wales
In England and Wales although there is no universal right to wander around the countryside, thanks to the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act
, You do have a right to roam in certain Open Access areas of the
English and Welsh countryside. Where there is no Open Access you need to stick to the official "rights of way", which are clearly marked on maps and sometimes
on the ground.
Access to the countryside is far more limited than in the rest of the United Kingdom, having been described as "the most restrictive in Europe". As far as I am
aware the CRoW act does not apply to Northern Ireland and there are no Open Access areas; public access being limited to official Public Rights of Way only.
Dogs should always be under their owners full control so as not to disturb wildlife
or annoy or frighten other visitors. When walking on roads or close to farm animals they should be on a short lead
regardless of how well controlled they are.
In Scotland, everyone has the right of access for recreation, education and general travel unless specifically excluded. Exclusions generally apply to airfields, farm yards and crop growing sites,
industrial and military areas, paid-for visitor attractions, private gardens and school playing fields. The CROW act
does not apply to Scotland, instead you have
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act
legalised the ancient tradition of the universal right to access land in Scotland, provided you follow The Scottish Outdoor Access Code
The information on this page is based on my understanding of the legislation in the various parts of the United Kingdom; if any details are wrong, please
let me know
so that they can be corrected.