What is the right to roam?

Kinder scout

Want to walk off the beaten track? You can.

In a nutshell, the right to roam is the freedom to walk on open countryside away from any paths. It means being able to walk freely, explore the natural environment and find your own way.

Since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was introduced in 2000 – following our 60 year campaign - walkers have been given a right to roam across parts of the countryside in England and Wales.

In Scotland, walkers have a more extensive right to roam compared to England and Wales. In fact, Scotland has some of the best access rights in the world.

Where can I walk?

In Scotland the public has the right to walk on most land for the purposes of recreation, education and going from place to place. These access rights apply to farmland, but not to land where crops have been sown. Full access rights and responsibilities are explained in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

In England and Wales, you can walk in areas that are defined as open access. When you’re out walking, you’ll see the open access sign, meaning you’re free to roam.

Open access sign

There are over 3 million acres of land in England and Wales that are open access, meaning walkers can enjoy these areas on foot unhindered. On open access land you don’t have to stick to any footpaths, trails or other rights of way; you can walk wherever you want.

Find open access places

The simplest way to find open access land is to get hold of a map. All Ordnance Survey Explorer maps show access land in yellow wash.

The first thing you’ll notice is that there’s a mixture of large and small patches all over England and Wales. Particularly large areas include parts of the Peak District, the Pennines, Yorkshire Dales, Pembrokeshire, Exmoor to name a few.

You can also view Natural England’s Access Maps, where you can also find out about any temporarily closures, for example to protect ground nesting birds.

What type of land is included?

Most mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales is open access.

Mountain is land over 600m/1,969ft above sea level and other upland areas of rough, steep land with crags, scree, bare rock and associated vegetation.

Moor is unenclosed areas of semi-natural vegetation, including bog, rough acid grassland and calcareous grassland.

Heath is unenclosed areas of nutrient-poor soils that support acid-loving plants such as heather, gorse, bilberry and bracken.

Down is semi-natural, unimproved grasslands in chalk or limestone areas, perhaps also supporting scattered scrub.

Common land is land registered as common under the Commons Registration Act 1965.

Since being introduced it has also been extended to include most woodland managed by the Forestry Commission and National Nature Reserves managed by Natural England.

Can’t roam free?

You can report any problems you encounter when out walking on access land by using our online form.

Want to know more?

For all the detailed facts about the open access land and the right to roam, read our factsheet.


Photo: © Duncan Harris

Want to know more?

Read our factsheet for more detailed information on the right to roam in England and Wales.