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The Ins and Outs of Open Access Land

If you were asked to plan a ramble in the countryside, you would quite rightly initially think about making use of the extensive network of footpaths and bridleways that criss-cross our land, known as public rights of way. But your options don’t need to stop there. Following new legislation in 2000, there are also a number of areas to explore where you don’t need to stick to the paths…

You can access some land across England without having to use paths - this land is known as ‘open access land’ or ‘access land’. Access land includes mountains, moors, heaths and downs that are privately owned. Your right to access this land is called the ‘right to roam’, or ‘freedom to roam’.

The Rules for People

There are several rules around the use of open access land that you need to be aware of, and these differ from the rules around using public rights of way. You can use access land for walking, running, sight-seeing, watching wildlife and climbing. There are certain activities you can’t do on open access land, including horse-riding, cycling, camping, driving a vehicle (except mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs), lighting fires and using a metal detector. Even within the boundaries of open access land, you must not enter houses and buildings (and associated gardens or courtyards), crop fields, building sites, parks, golf courses, racecourses, railways, tramways and working quarries.

The Rules for Dogs

Walkers have a right to walk their dogs on any public right of way (including all footpaths and bridleways), but this is NOT the case with open access land. Landowners can apply to the government for specific restrictions to exclude dogs from open access land. Landowners can exclude people with dogs from a field used for lambing for up to 6 weeks each calendar year. Landowners can also exclude people with dogs from land managed as a grouse moor for up to 5 years at a time. Given that this exclusion can then be renewed every 5 years, there are large areas of open access moorland where dogs are not allowed to accompany walkers on a permanent basis. Importantly, if a public right of way crosses the open access moor in questions, then walkers are still allowed to walk with dogs along the lines of these rights of way.

Where dogs are welcomed by the landowner on open access land, there are a couple of simple rules to follow. You must keep your dog on a lead no more than 2 metres long on open access land between 1 March and 31 July (to protect ground-nesting birds) and also at all times around livestock.

The Signage and Symbols

On Ordnance Survey maps, open access land has yellow shading with an orangey-brown border. In terms of signage on the ground, the start of open access land is marked with a brown and white walker icon. At the end of open access land, the same symbol is used but with a red diagonal line. Don’t be confused and think this necessarily means that there is no access beyond this point, as long as there is a public right of way that you are able to use, your route can continue.




The Register of Areas and Restrictions

Natural England keeps a register of all the open access land in England and also a register of those areas that have dog exclusions in place or other temporary restrictions.

This is a helpful resource to enable you to check if your pooch will be welcome on a moorland when planning your walk. Simply search by the name of the site within this CRoW search form and then look for any restriction documents listed in the table at the bottom of the page for that particular site. Open the PDF to see the exact area and dates for which this exclusion applies.


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