Rights to Roam
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (“CROWA”) was introduced to make new provisions for public access, amend the existing law relating to public rights of way, to instigate traffic regulation of agricultural vehicles on and off public highways, and to make new provisions for wildlife and conservation, amongst other matters. The central aim of CROWA is to lay out the rules for access, rights of way and nature conservation. Members of the public do not have an unfettered right to walk over agricultural and other private land but there are rights of access over certain areas of land under CROWA, which are more commonly referred to as “rights to roam”.
Subject to CROWA, members of the public are lawfully allowed to roam over:
- Land shown as open country published by Natural England (or the Countryside Council for Wales)
- Registered common Land (such as Walkhampton Common)
- Land situated more than 600 metres above sea level;
- Dedicated land (landowners and tenants, who have at least 90 years left to run on their leases, are able to dedicate their land for public access).
There are some exceptions to the above, which includes land which remains private land and has to be accessed using a dedicated public right of way. This land includes building sites, private homes, railways, pens used for livestock and land owned by the MOD.
There are restrictions which are outlined by CROWA that restricts the right of access to a right of access on foot only. Certain activities are not usually permitted automatically under rights to roam, including camping, cycling, horse riding and water sports.
What rights do landowners have?
There is no automatic right to walk across agricultural or other private land, even if doing so would not cause damage. Landowners and occupiers can exclude or restrict public access to their land for up to 28 days each calendar year, provided they give notice to Natural England or Natural Resources (Wales) or the appropriate National Park Authority. Landowners can also restrict access to dog walkers over moorland where grouse are bred and shot, or over land used for lambing.
Landowners and occupiers are prohibited from deterring public use of access land by putting abhorrent signs up to deter members of the public from exercising their rights.
What are the implications of Landowners liability?
The liability of anyone with an interest in access land is not increased by reason of the public having rights of way over the access land. Under CROWA, occupier’s liability is set at the same lower level owed to trespassers provided the visitor is only exercising the statutory right of access. If the visitor is exercising more than the statutory right of access (for example, if horse riding and not permitted to do so), the landowner owes the normal higher duty of care.