Utilising our Right to Roam in the UK

By Nicky Jacquiery

In my last article I wrote about the different types of paths that we’re likely to encounter and our access rights when we’re out walking. For those of us who like to have the freedom to veer off a path and wander about the countryside, we need to know where we stand in terms of open access land. In this article I’m going to unravel the facts surrounding open access land so that it’s clear where we stand regarding our ‘Right to Roam’.

Untitled-1 (13).jpgRight to Roam was introduced as part of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CRoW) in 2000, opening up large areas of countryside for public access. For the first time it meant that we, as walkers, could walk across open country in England and Wales. Open country includes mountain, moor, heath, down and common land. As walkers we can roam over these areas regardless of whether or not there is a path. The Right to Roam, or CRoW Act as it’s become commonly known in walking circles, only provides a right of access on foot and does not generally include cycling or horse riding etc. Huge areas of land in both countries have been mapped to show where the Act applies and is clearly shown on Ordnance Survey maps. You can see open access land in yellow on the Explorer series maps, plus when you’re out walking this access symbol is used to indicate when you’re about to enter an open access area:

Untitled-1 (1).pngAlthough the CRoW Act gives walkers the right of access over open country, there are certain exceptions. For example, walkers do not have the right to walk across land that is being ploughed for sowing crops or land within 20 metres of a dwelling. In addition, there are a number of activities not covered by the Act, including using a vehicle or boat, lighting fires, intentionally disturbing wildlife and feeding livestock. If anyone is caught engaging in any of these or other restricted activities, they will be regarded as trespassing. Given the increasing number of walkers who have dogs, it’s worth noting that the right of access also includes the right to be accompanied by a dog, but not any other animal. Dogs must be kept on a short lead between March 1st and July 31st and while near to livestock regardless of the time of year. Landowners also have the right to restrict access for dogs across land where there are grouse, or land that is being used for lambing.

Landowners are not allowed to prevent walkers’ access to land that is designated as open access. If, for example, signs are put up deterring walkers from entering open access land, landowners may be fined. Equally, as walkers, it is expected that we will behave responsibly when out in the countryside regardless of whether we are walking across open access land. We should adhere to the Countryside Code by leaving gates as we find them, keeping dogs under control, protecting plants and animals and considering other people, including the landowners who live and work in the countryside.

Whilst the law regarding our Right to Roam in England and Wales applies to specified areas of open country, it’s worth noting that in Scotland it is different. Here the right of access applies to almost any land providing walkers behave responsibly by following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. The code is based on three key principles that apply equally to members of the public and landowners: respect the interests of other people; care for the environment and take responsibility for your own actions. Also, access rights are not restricted to walkers. Anyone can exercise their rights for recreational purposes and this includes horse riding and cycling.

The CRoW Act is controversial because of the potential conflict of interest between walkers and landowners. However, providing we behave responsibly and respect and protect our surroundings, there is no reason why everyone cannot enjoy the countryside that is open to us.

Originally published 31/01/18

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