Walking on military sites

If youre a keen walker, theres a good chance that youve walked on land owned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

As of April 2015, the MOD owned 222,600 hectares of land and foreshore in the UK thats 0.9% of the total landmass and held rights over a further 217,000 hectares, which is a further 0.9% of the total.

Land owned by the MOD for training troops includes beautiful uplands and coastal areas, as well as patches of green space in highly populated areas such as the south east making it great for walking and exploring.

The MOD has a policy of presumption in favour of public access on its training estate, wherever this is compatible with operational and military training uses, public safety, security, conservation and the interests of tenants. This is managed by the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO), a part of the MOD which manages the infrastructure needed by our armed forces.

What are the hazards?

If you walk across a military training site, there are a number of hazards that you might come across, including:

  • Firing of live ammunition (from small arms to heavy artillery);
  • Firing of blank ammunition;
  • Hidden pyrotechnics (light, noise and smoke);
  • Unexploded ammunition on the ground;
  • Fast moving vehicles, including trucks and tanks and quad bikes; and
  • Ambush training.

There may also be difficult terrain such as muddy surfaces and holes in areas used by heavy vehicles.

In order to manage these risks, DIO uses a number of methods to warn people of when and where it is safe to walk.

What to know about red flags and red lights

The MOD flies red flags (or switches on red lights at night) on sites when life threatening activity is undertaken, such as the use of live ammunition. No public access is allowed while the flags are up or the lights are switched on.

These are likely to be marked as Danger Areas on an Ordnance Survey Explorer map, with the boundary shown by solid red triangles. If there are Public Rights of Way across a danger area, the MOD uses byelaws to enable them to close the paths temporarily when red flags or red lights are used:

If you see a red flag on your walk, do not attempt to enter the site. Check your map to make sure you know where the danger areas are and plan your route safely around them. Note that the boundary of the danger area might not be shown on older maps or maps at other scales.

If youre planning a walk on a particular date, you can find out the times when public access will be allowed, and when live firing is taking place on these websites:

Byelaws on other MOD sites

Live ammunition is only used on certain sites within the MODs estate. Other sites are used to provide vehicle training; orienteering; setting up camp; ambush, sniper and defence training; with only blank ammunition is used. These activities are collectively known as Dry Training. The red flag system is not used on these sites.

These sites are likely to be shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map as Managed Access areas with the boundary denoted using triangles with a red outline.

Access is normally allowed to these sites (or part of a site) when it is not being actively used for military training and where it will not conflict with any other management of the land. For example, access may be restricted where the land is recovering from training use, where trees are being felled, for nature conservation reasons or where there are events taking place (e.g. organised sporting events or filming). The MOD is able to manage this access (including use of Rights of Way) using byelaws.

If youre planning a walk through a Managed Access area and are unsure of the byelaws, contact the DIO Access and Recreation Advisory team at DIOSEE-EPSESCAccess@mod.uk

In addition, some MOD land is not used for training but is let to tenant farmers. These areas will normally only be publicly accessible on Rights of Way, to avoid disruption to the farming activities.

What to do when walking on MOD sites

  • Look out for red flags or red lights. Stay clear of these areas when the flags are up. Remember that not all maps may show danger or managed access areas.
  • If you are walking a dog, keep it under close control at all times dogs straying into firing ranges can be injured. If they stray into a military exercise, they can accidentally set off flares, disturb ambushes or might be at risk from vehicles.
  • Always adhere to advice given to you by military personnel or on signs and information boards. Try to avoid interrupting military training exercises.
  • Keep watch for vehicles around you. Look and listen when walking on or crossing roads, tracks or areas of vehicle training. Be aware that it can be difficult for the drivers of some vehicles to see pedestrians around them.
  • Be aware that there may be sudden noises, smoke or spontaneous illumination (e.g. from pyrotechnics). These may be startling!
  • Do not touch any ammunition or debris that you find on the site or anything that looks suspicious. If you find something that looks like it could pose a risk dial 999.
  • Do not enter any structures or vehicles on military training areas they may be unsafe.
  • Wash your hands before you eat
  • Clean your shoes and boots before you enter your car or home

Above:The view from a turret

Find out more before you walk by accessing these websites:


All images kindly provided by MOD and are Crown Copyright ©