According to several laws relating to the 'right of way', the general public has protected rights to pass and repass certain types of public and private lands.
This guide explains how to use public rights of way 'legally' and how your 'right to roam' has restricted access for certain areas.
Members of the public have the legal right to access some, but not all, land areas for leisure activities (e.g. dog walking, rambling).
As a result, you can use:
Note: As a rule, open access land includes common land, downs, heaths, moors, mountains, and selected land masses around the England Coast Path (a National Trail around England's coastline).
What if neither of these rules apply to the area that you would like to enter? In this case, you might still be able to get access to private land, such as when:
The rights of way laws in the United Kingdom provide the permission for the general public to use:
Local council authorities use signs or coloured arrows to mark public rights of way. They use yellow markings for footpaths and blue colouring for bridleways.
There are several ways that you can find the route of public rights of way in England, Wales, and in Northern Ireland, including:
Note: The independent charity 'Scotways' has further information about the Scottish Rights of Way & Access Society.
In some cases, you can ask your local council to add, change, or remove a public right of way (either temporarily or permanently).
Following that, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman deals with cases where a council failed to deal with an enquiry in the proper manner.
Note: You can also report a problem with a right of way (e.g. an obstruction, poor maintenance, or a misleading sign) by contacting the local council.
You do not need to use paths to access some of the land areas in England. In fact, the actual definition for this is 'open access land'.
Hence, open access land often includes heathland, moors, mountains, and even some 'privately' owned downs. It can also include common land registered with the local council and some of the England Coast Path.
Note: The 'right to roam' (sometimes called 'freedom to roam') means you have the legal right to access any of these open access land areas.
Members of the public have the right to pass and repass (return) across open access land to walk, run, to climb, and to watch wildlife. Even so, some of the activities you cannot do, include:
However, cycling and horse-riding would be permitted on open access land in the United Kingdom if the landowner allows it, or there are:
There are two situations when you must keep a dog on a lead that is no more than two (2) metres long when using access land:
Furthermore, you would need to keep your dog under close control on any land areas next to the England Coast Path (excluding assistance dogs).
The term 'excepted land' refers to private areas situated on public access land. But, even if you see these areas showing on a map of open access land, you do not have the legal right to access these 'private' areas.
Typical examples of excepted land located across the landmasses of Britain would be:
Note: As a rule, you would be able to use public rights of way to venture across most excepted land areas.
The Natural England website has information on ways to find land that you can access, as well as areas that are currently closed to walkers. The same information is available on the Natural Resources Wales site.
Note: Another section explains more about the rules for using common land and village greens (e.g. owned by a council, privately, or by the National Trust).
You can either report problems directly to the national park itself or through your local council. The Open Access Contact Centre has further information for people accessing public land across England.
Open Access Contact Centre
Email: [email protected]
Telephone: 0300 060 2091
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When a landowner agrees to let people use their private land you should be able to access it. So, once they grant 'permissive access' (usually through signage) you may use it for walking, horse riding, or cycling.
You can also use the Natural England website to search for farms and other land areas that have granted access for families, groups (e.g. ramblers), and schools.
The HMRC directory is another good place to conduct a search for land of outstanding scenic or scientific interest (including land with permissive access).
Public Rights of Way Rules in United Kingdom