Most mountain, moor, heath, down and common land in England and Wales is open access. Some woodland areas owned by the Forestry Commission and National Nature Reserves managed by Natural England also have open access, and the England Coast Path project is adding further access along the English coastline.
Mountain, moor, heath and down each have their own legal definition for 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 such with the local commons registration authority.
Woodland: Since being introduced, access land has been extended to include some woodland managed by the Forestry Commission.
Coast: Natural England are busy creating the England Coast Path, which is due to be completed in 2020. This project will create a path around the whole English coast, with the right of access on to the area between the path and the sea, known as the coastal margin.
The following restrictions can apply to mountain, moor, heath and down. The restrictions for the coastal margin are sometimes different. Click here for more information.
28 day Restrictions
Landowners or tenants can stop open access on their land for any reason for up to 28 days per year, to give them flexibility for activities which wouldn’t be compatible with the public walking through, but there are certain days when they can’t. The 28 days can’t include Christmas Day, Good Friday, Bank Holidays or more than four Saturdays or Sundays in in a year. They also can’t use this restriction on any Saturday between 1 June and 11 August or any Sunday between 1 June and 30 September.
Grouse Moors and Lambing Enclosures
These rules can last for up to five years and stop you taking dogs onto the land, in case they disturb or injure the grouse. Fields or enclosures used for lambing (of not more than 15 hectares) can also be closed for up to six weeks in a year at these times. You can still walk with your guide dog if you have a visual impairment or assistance dog if you have a hearing impairment.
Access to land may not be allowed, for example, where a target shooting club uses a site on a regular basis and needs to exclude the public on particular days for safety reasons, or where the land is being used for a visitor attraction which has an entrance fee and public access needs to be excluded all year so that the business can function.
Land may be closed to the public, for example, by the Forestry Commission in areas of woodland where they are felling trees to avoid people being hurt by the falling trees or the machinery they are using.
Sometimes, in very dry weather, land might be closed where there’s an exceptional risk of wildfire.
Nature Conservation and Heritage Preservation
Land which has rare plants, birds or animals, might be closed for short or longer periods to protect the wildlife. Sometimes, where there is a delicate rock outcrop or an ancient monument, public access might be stopped to protect these.
Defence or National Security
In some circumstances, the government may restrict public access locally for defence or national security reasons.
There are some types of land on which there is never a right to roam. This makes sure that people’s privacy and safety, or particular types of business, are protected. Here are some of the most common types of land you may come across which you don’t have the right to roam over:
- Buildings (and land within 20m of a building)
- Private parks and gardens
- Railways or tramways
- Golf courses
- Aerodromes or airports
- Temporary livestock pens
- Race courses and land used for training race horses
- Military land, for example where they may be firing guns.
You can find out more about land excepted under the CRoW Act here:
Exceptions and restrictions in the coastal margin (England only)
There are types of land which remain off limits and rules for what you can and can’t do in the coastal margin. These are largely the same as on open access land, although you can walk:
- On land within 20m of a building
- Through land used for training race horses
- Your dog off the lead all year round (except around livestock) – but you do need to check for local controls which may be in force.
Access may be excluded from areas of saltmarsh and mudflat where the land is unsafe to walk. This may be particularly dangerous for visitors who don’t know the area well. Whether you are a visitor or live locally, it’s important to take note of the ground conditions and read and follow instructions on local signage.
You can find out more about coastal margin exceptions and restrictions here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/manage-your-land-on-the-england-coast-path#land-that-doesnt-have-public-access