The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 gives the public the right of access to certain areas of land. This right is commonly known as the “right to roam”.
Land over which the public have the right of access
The Act gives the public the right of access over the following land:
- land shown as open country on a map in conclusive form issued by Natural England (or its predecessor the Countryside Agency) or the Countryside Council for Wales;
- registered common land;
- land which is situated more than 600 metres above sea level;
- “dedicated land” (landowners and tenants who have at least 90 years left to run on their leases may “dedicate” their land for public access).
Such land is referred to in the Act as “access land”.
There are certain exceptions to this for:
- registered common land situated in Inner London which is not shown on such a map;
- land which is being or has been ploughed or drilled (or where similar agricultural or forestry operations is being or has been carried out) within the previous 12 months for the purposes of planting or sowing crops or trees;
- land covered by buildings (including temporary and moveable structures such as tents and caravans) or the curtilage of such land;
- land within 20 metres of a dwelling;
- land used as a park or garden;
- land used for the getting of minerals by surface working (e.g. quarrying);
- land used for the purposes of a railway (including a light railway) or tramway;
- land used for the purposes of a golf course, racecourse or aerodrome;
- land where works are carried out for the purposes of a statutory undertaking or a telecommunications code system (including the curtilage of any such land);
- land which is being developed in certain circumstances;
- land within 20 metres of a building which is used for housing livestock (unless the building is a temporary or moveable structure);
- land covered by pens in use for the temporary reception or detention of livestock;
- land habitually used for the training of racehorses;
- land which is used by the military.
The extent of the right
The right allows the public to enter and remain on any access land for the purposes of open-air recreation as long as they do so without breaking or damaging any wall, fence, hedge, stile or gate and as long as they observe certain other restrictions.
If a person fails to observe these conditions or restrictions they are treated as a trespasser and are prohibited from going on the land or land owned by the same person for 72 hours after leaving the land.
Exclusions and restrictions on public access
There are some general restrictions on the use of access land. These are as follows:
- the right of access is confined to access by foot (there are exceptions for invalid carriages and for vessels and sailboards on tidal waters);
- the right of access includes the right to be accompanied by a dog but not by any other type of animal. However, between 1 March and 31 July dogs must be kept on a short lead (of not more than 2 metres) and dogs must also be kept on a short lead whatever the time of year if they are in the vicinity of livestock;
- there is no right to commit a criminal offence;
- there is no right to light or tend a fire or do any act which is likely to cause a fire;
- intentionally or recklessly taking, killing, injuring or disturbing an animal, bird or fish is prohibited;
- intentionally or recklessly taking, damaging or destroying an egg or nest is prohibited;
- feeding livestock is prohibited;
- bathing in non-tidal water is prohibited;
- hunting, shooting, fishing, trapping, snaring, taking and destroying animals, birds and fish is prohibited as is having any engine, instrument or apparatus for such purposes;
- using or having a metal detector is prohibited;
- intentionally removing, damaging and destroying plants, shrubs, trees and roots and parts of the same is prohibited;
- obstructing the flow of a drain or watercourse or opening, shutting or interfering with a sluice-gate or other apparatus is prohibited;
- interfering with a fence, barrier or other device designed to prevent accidents to people or to enclose livestock, without reasonable excuse, is prohibited;
- there is a requirement to shut any gates and to fasten them where any means of doing so as provided, except where it is reasonable to assume that a gate is intended to be left open;
- affixing or writing an advertisement, bill, placard or notice is prohibited;
- intimidating, disturbing and annoying other people who are engaging in or are about to engage in a lawful activity or obstructing or disrupting that activity is prohibited;
- engaging in any organised games, camping, hang-gliding and para-gliding is prohibited;
- engaging in any activity which is organised or undertaken for any commercial purpose is prohibited.
Landowners and occupiers can, subject to certain exceptions, exclude or restrict public access to their land for up to 28 days in any calendar year by giving notice to Natural England or the Countryside Council for Wales or, in the case of National Parks, the National Park authority.
Landowners can also restrict access by dog walkers over moorland where grouse are bred and shot or over any land which is being used for lambing.
Landowners and occupiers can also apply to Natural England or the Countryside Council for Wales or, in the case of National Parks, the National Park authority, for permission to exclude or restrict public access to their land for land management purposes.
Where there is a risk of fire or there is a danger to the public Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and the National Park authorities have the power to restrict or exclude public access to land.
Natural England, the Countryside Council for Wales and the National Park authorities also have the power to restrict or exclude public access to land for the purposes of nature conservation and heritage preservation.
Deterring public use
Landowners and occupiers are prohibited from deterring public use of access land by putting signs up which are likely to deter the public from exercising their right over access land and may be fined if they do so.