Outdoor access in England and Scotland
The UK offers a superb outdoors playground and plenty of freedom to walk trails, hills and mountains. Scotland, in particular, boasts an impressive freedom of outdoors access code and allows for a huge array of activities with few limitations on where you can go. Here we reveal the rules of outdoors access in England and Scotland. Wales is very similar to England. The main difference between Scotland and England is that in Scotland you have the right to access all land unless it’s around a private house or building. In England and Wales, only land that is mapped is available for public access and only on foot.
The Countryside Code in England and Wales
The Countryside Code in England and Wales is designed to help everyone to respect, protect and enjoy the countryside. Much of the code is commonsense. This is a code that has been in existence since the 1950s and was last updated in 2012. The code states: Respect other people
- Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
- Leave gates and property as you find them and always try to follow paths and trails.
Protect the natural environment
- Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home
- Keep dogs under effective control
Enjoy the outdoors
- Plan ahead and be prepared
- Follow advice and local signs.
Countryside access in England and Wales
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the public can walk freely on mapped areas of mountain, moor, heath and registered commonland without having to stick to paths.
Landowners may dedicate other areas of land for permanent open access. For example, the Forestry Commission has dedicated 700 square miles for open access use. So there is an extensive outdoors arena in England of around 865,000 hectares of land in which people can walk, ramble, run, explore, climb and watch wildlife. There is freedom of access in these places:
- National Trails
- National Parks
- Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty
- National Nature Reserves
- Local Nature Reserves
- Rights of way
Outdoors England restrictions
However, there are some clear restrictions to countryside access in England.
- You are not allowed to freely ride a horse, bike or use any other mechanical transport, hang-glide or paraglide, use a metal detector or camp in the English countryside unless in designated areas and trails.
- You can’t swim, use boats or windsurfers in non-tidal rivers or lakes.
- Some areas of land, such as gardens, parks and arable land, are excluded from access by the public. Specifically, there is land in England on which the right of access is not available at any time, even if it appears on maps of access land. It is generally obvious on the ground and includes private buildings and the land attached to them; land within 20 metres of a house; quarries, golf courses and race courses and arable land, among other areas.
- At all times of the year dogs must be kept on a short lead (no more than two metres) in the vicinity of livestock.
- In some circumstances, a landowner or farm tenant can exclude or restrict access to their land. It is important to obey signs where this applies
- Walkers should look out for local signs indicating any closures or restrictions.
Scotland’s Outdoors Access Code
In 2003, the Scotland Land Reform (Scotland) Act came into force, which established a statutory right of responsible access over most areas of land and inland water. The main messages form the Scottish Outdoors Access Code (SOAC) are:
- Take responsibility for your own actions
- Respect the interests of other people
- Care for the environment.
Essentially there are very few restrictions to where you can walk, ride a bicycle, swim, canoe, kayak or wild camp in Scotland’s countryside. The Scottish law leaves it for the people who make use of the countryside while respecting their surroundings and the land of others and to leave it in perfect condition for others to also use. Everyone has the statutory right of access to all land and inland waters, unless specifically excluded. These access rights are for outdoor recreation, for crossing land and water. There are some obvious commonsense restrictions including:
- Private houses and gardens
- Farm buildings and yards
- Farm land that has been planted or has crops growing
- School land and sports or playing fields when in use
- Golf courses (but you can cross a golf course provided you don't interfere with any games of golf)
- Airfields, railways, telecommunication sites, military bases and installations, working quarries and construction sites and visitor attractions or other places that charge for entry.
Tips for outdoors access in Scotland
On or in the water
- The access rights apply to non-motorised crafts only and open water swimming
- Respect anglers and their desire for peace
- Take care when entering or exiting water so as not to damage the environment
- Avoid areas of commercial fishing unless you have spoken to the landowner.
- Access rights extend to swimming (subject to any local byelaws).
- Never light fires during dry periods in woodlands or on peaty ground.
- Never cut down or damage trees.
- Pay attention to signs and follow any advice from the forester or land manager.
- Access rights do not usually apply to farmyards. However, if a right of way or core path goes through a farmyard, you can follow this at any time.
- Use a gate or stile where one has been provided. Do not climb over walls or hedges unless there is no alternative.
- Leave gates as you find them, even if they are open.
- Keep away from fields of farm animals or growing crops.
- Do not take your dog into fields containing growing crops, calves, lambs, or other young animals.
In hills and mountains
- Avoid areas where red stag stalking is taking place. This is usually between July and October and notices will give full instructions of restricted areas.
- The same applies to times of grouse shooting.
- Do not let your dog roam near ground nesting birds or worry sheep and cattle.
- Take responsible care when walking in hills and mountains so as not to damage the environment and disturb wildlife.
Wild camping Scotland’s generous outdoors access rights extend to wild camping, except where there are seasonal camping restrictions such as on the shores of the east side of Loch Lomond.
- Wild camping should be lightweight, done in small numbers and only for two or three nights in any one place.
- Always think responsibly about where you are camping, and try to avoid causing problems for local people and land managers by not camping in enclosed fields of crops or near farm animals.
- Take extra care to avoid disturbing deer stalking or grouse shooting. If you wish to camp close to a house or building, seek the owner's permission.
Leave no trace by:
- Taking away all your litter
- Removing all evidence of your tent pitch and of any open fire.
- Not causing any pollution.
To find out more about Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code see Know The Code before You Go.
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