Rights of way and access to the countryside
The Land reform (Scotland) Act 2003 established statutory public rights of access to land for recreational and other purposes.
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides detailed guidance on these responsibilities. Everyone, whatever their age or ability, can exercise access rights over most land and inland water in Scotland, at any time of day or night, providing they do so responsibly.
Access rights do not apply to the following places:
- houses and gardens, and non-residential buildings and associated land;
- land in which crops are growing;
- land next to a school and used by the school;
- sports or playing fields when these are in use and where the exercise of access rights would interfere with such use;
- land developed and in use for recreation and where the exercise of access rights would interfere with such use;
- golf greens (but you can cross a golf course provided you don’t interfere with any games of golf);
- places like airfields, railways, telecommunication sites, military bases and installations, working quarries and construction sites; and
- visitor attractions or other places which charge for entry.
What you must do
Owners or managers of land or water in Scotland must manage the land in a way which is responsible in respect of the public's statutory access rights.
Land manager’s responsibilities:
- Make sure you do not purposefully or unreasonably prevent, hinder or deter people from exercising rights on or off paths or tracks.
- You must take access rights into account when planning and implementing any major land use change or development.
- You should respect any rights of way or customary access across your land or water.
- Avoid using “no access”, “private” or “keep out” signs.
- Do not lock gates which would prevent legitimate public access.
- Act reasonably when asking people to avoid certain areas. Suggest and clearly waymark alternative routes.
- State at obvious access points any necessary precautions or diversions, particularly where access levels are high.
Access to Countryside
In Northern Ireland public access is restricted to:
- areas of land which are in public ownership and to which the public are invited to use,
- public rights of way, or
- where the public have the landowner’s permission to visit.
District councils have responsibility for access to the countryside in Northern Ireland, any local issues should be reported to them.
The Northern Ireland Environment Agency can provide advice on general countryside access matters.
- Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland: Access to the Countryside – The Legal Position
- NI Countryside Code
- NI Public Rights of Way Legislation
The Access to the Countryside (Northern Ireland) Order 1983 states that land managers or owners should maintain any structures across a public right of way in a safe condition and should prevent unreasonable interference. No notices containing false or misleading information likely to deter public from using the way should be placed, otherwise it could lead to a fine.
Members of the public can only exercise access rights to cross over a golf course and in doing so, must keep off greens at all times and not interfere with any golf games. To avoid damaging the playing surface, cyclists and horse riders need to keep to paths at all time and not go on to any other part of a golf course.
Land managers should ensure to provide paths around or across the course where possible and/or advise people on the safest ways through the course. This will help to minimise safety risks. Different types of access should also be provided, that includes walking, cycling etc.
Local access officers are available from your local council to assist with any access issues.
In Northern Ireland
Members of the public do not have access rights to unenclosed land, however they are generally free to roam National Trust lands, country parks and forest parks.