Be aware of the law when enjoying the countryside

Open access land – be aware of the law when enjoying the countryside.

After a busy bank holiday and with the weather hopefully set fair (at least for next week) you may wish to make the most of the outdoors before the nights start drawing in. In doing so you might encounter Open Access Land, but what is this?

John Cooke, of The Rural Law Practice at Thomson Hayton Winkley Solicitors explains,

“Open Access Land is land to which the public has the right of access to under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Broadly speaking, it includes ‘open country’ (mountain, moor, heath and down), land that is registered as ‘common land’, and also coastal margins.

Natural England has the responsibility to prepare and maintain maps showing open access land, and you can search these on line.

Members of the public can go onto open access land for the purposes of open-air recreation. However, there is a long list of restrictions set out in Schedule 2 of the Act which includes such things as taking a vehicle, bike or horse onto the land, using a metal detector, camping, and lighting fires, unless the owner permits these activities, or there is an established right to do so. There is also, perhaps not surprisingly, a prohibition on damaging fences, walls and hedges, leaving litter, disturbing livestock and wildlife.

It should also be noted that visitors must keep their dogs on a short lead of no more than 2 metres between 1 March and 31 July each year, and at all times near livestock.

The occupiers of open access land have reduced liability for injuries caused by natural features on the land, unless they have created the danger themselves, or have been reckless.

So, if you are the owner or occupier of such land, it is important that you find out about your rights and responsibilities, particularly if you are looking to do work on the land, or seeking to restrict public access. And when you are out and about in our beautiful local countryside, do be aware of what you can and cannot do.”

Published 28 August 2019

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