Island knowledge, national expertise

Who Can Go Where?

In England and Wales, the law relating to access to land position is governed by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

In England and Wales, the public have the right to access what is called 'access land' – which is mainly registered common land, mountains, downland, heathland and moorland and other specifically shown (on the relevant maps) 'open country'. In theory, therefore, the land which is legally usable by the public in England and Wales is a rather small area of the total. Certain types of land (such as quarries) within the areas over which there is a general right are also excluded, for obvious reasons.

A landowner in England or Wales has the right to close his access land for up to 28 days per year, or for other suitable periods (including permanently) of safety, land management, to protect nature or ancient monuments, on grounds of national security or for up to three months in an emergency.

One aspect of the law which provides relief for landowners is s. 67 of the Act, which denies the right of access to mechanically propelled vehicles beyond 15 yards of a road and allows access only for parking – a piece of legislation decried by 'off-roaders', scramblers and quad bikers, but by few others.

More recent legislation provides for the establishment of ‘restricted byways’, which consist of every road shown on the definitive map as a road used as a public path. It is an offence to drive a mechanically-propelled vehicle (other than an electrically-assisted pedal cycle) on such roads. This change prohibits driving over approximately 5,000 miles of roadway. The exception to this rule (in England) is that vehicular access is allowed for a person with an interest in the land or who is a visitor to it if the road was formerly used by them to obtain access to the land. In addition, public rights of way for motor vehicles are no longer able to be created unless expressly provided for in legislation or by use of statutory powers.

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The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.