Legal talk Do you have the ‘right to roam’ ?

With Elmhirst Parker Solicitors

Before you head off on a walk in the open countryside, you need to consider if you’re actually allowed to enter the fields that you may stumble across.

Escaping the bustle of everyday life to get out in the countryside is something we take for granted. But, as recently as the turn of this century, freedom to roam open spaces was restricted. It wasn’t until 2000 that ramblers got what they always wanted - an act of Parliament that opened up huge sections of land where people could roam freely.

The sheer number of footpaths that criss- cross this green and pleasant land is a fabulous reason for lovers of the outdoors to strap on their boots and get roaming. But what you do need to remember is that those seemingly empty fields and miles and miles of tracks, pathways, bridleways and trails usually go across land that actually belongs to someone.

While public footpaths are exactly that – public – wandering across private property could land you in hot water for trespass. So, who does have the ‘right to roam’ across open land, and what rights do the landowners have when it comes to stopping the public from accessing their property?

The legal standpoint You don’t have automatic access to walk

across agricultural or other private land, even if you think doing so wouldn’t cause any damage. However, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, there is a ‘right to roam’ over certain areas. These include:

• Any land shown on a map as ‘open country’ • Registered common land (like parts of the New Forest, for example)

• Land that’s higher than 600m above sea level • Dedicated land: landlords and tenants who have at least 90 years left on their lease can ‘dedicate’ land for public access. This does not automatically grant you access to any surrounding land that has not been dedicated.

This alone should be more than enough to keep even the most ardent roamer happy for years, but there are also areas that you cannot simply wander across, including some land that may be shown as open access on a map, but remains private.

This is known as ‘excepted’ land, and the only way you can roam across it is to use dedicated


footpaths, bridleways and rights of way. This includes a lot of agricultural land, fields and paddocks where racehorses are kept.

Your responsibilities as a roamer

The right to roam lets you go onto open access land for the purpose of open-air recreation, such as walking. It doesn’t give you the freedom to do what you want there, or cause any damage to hedgerows, fences or walls. It also does not give you the right to ‘wild camp’. If you breach any conditions, including allowing your dog to run free around livestock, then you can be treated as a trespasser. This will mean the landowner has the right to stop you from going onto their land for 72 hours after you’ve been asked to leave. You’re also bound by a certain number of restrictions, even on open access land. So, you’re only allowed access on foot. You should also avoid contact with livestock, and make sure that you don’t have anything with you that could indicate you intend hunting, shooting or fishing without permission. This could result in you being prosecuted for poaching.

Surely wild swimming is okay?

In the last couple of years, the popularity of ‘wild swimming’ has exploded, including swimming in natural ponds, rivers, lakes or the sea. However, there are restrictions there, too. You cannot ‘wild swim’ in non-tidal water, so even if that lake on someone’s land looks absolutely

perfect for a dip, you must ask the landowner’s permission first.

They may say yes, on the clear understanding that you do so at your own risk, but they’re more likely to decline for fear of being held accountable if anyone is injured or drowns.

What rights do the

landowners have? It can be very difficult to stop people from accessing your land if there are footpaths and public access points going across it. You can restrict access for up to 28 days a year, which is often the case during lambing season or at critical times, so that livestock are not at risk of being disturbed. It is also possible to restrict access for dog walkers over moorland where game birds are bred and shot. However, what you cannot do is put up

‘No Trespassing’ signs on access land, or any sign that’s designed to deter the public from walking through access land. You cannot also use threatening behaviour or deliberately put the public at risk, for example by putting up barbed wire at public access points. The law is there to protect both landowners and those who want to exercise their right to roam across some of our beautiful landscapes.

If you have any questions about your right to access a particular location or if you’re a landowner and want to know what you can do to protect your property while remaining within the boundaries of the law, talk to our property law expert.

*This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

• Civil Disputes • Injury Claims • Children and Family Law • Residential and Commercial Conveyancing

Telephone or e-mail Keith Haggerty Tel: 01226 282238

17/19 Regent Street, Barnsley, S70 2HP (also in Royston, Selby and Sherburn-in-Elmet)

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