We want everyone to have access to woodlands. And we want this access to be guaranteed for the future. This can be achieved in a number of ways and given the variety of woodland types, ownerships and management objectives, we’d like to see a package of measures which supports walkers, landowners, woodland managers and everyone else who’s involved in creating, managing and enjoying our woodlands.
Yes. In England and Wales only around 40% of woodland is available for people to fully explore, and much of that does not have a permanent right of access, meaning that it can be closed off at any time. In England that figure falls to just 38%, whereas Wales has access to 43%. In Scotland the amount of access is even higher at 59%. These figures show that England and Wales both have scope to increase access to woodland.
A walk in the woods is one of life’s simple pleasures. But the benefits extend far beyond just enjoying your surroundings.
Research shows that spending time in woodland has a positive impact on physical and mental wellbeing, can reduce stress and boost health and energy levels.
The Countryside and Rights of Way Act was passed in 2000, which revolutionised the way we are able to access our countryside – but at that time it wasn’t possible to include access to woodland. In 2013 the government recognised the importance of people being able to access woodland and pledged to increase access. But little progress has been made since.
We recently commissioned a YouGov survey which revealed that people in England are most interested in seeing increased access to woods and forests over other types of land, so we’re calling on people to sign our petition, which asks the government to improve access to woodland.
We’ve come such a long way in the last 800 years since the Charter of the Forest in our efforts to open up access to our beautiful landscapes for everyone to enjoy.
We’ve seen many milestones along the way; the Kinder Mass Trespass, the creation of National Parks, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act, the Marine and Coastal Access Act, the opening of the Wales Coast Path, all of which have helped to increase the places people can walk. But we know there’s still a way to go, with many areas still out of bounds.
We recently commissioned a YouGov survey which revealed that people in England are most interested in seeing increased access to woods and forests over other types of land, so on the anniversary of the Charter of the Forest we’re calling on people to sign our petition, which asks the government to improve access to woodland.
No. As with public access to any type of land use, it’s a case of managing it appropriately and providing the right information.
As with public access to any type of land use, it’s a case of managing appropriately.
Walkers are responsible for their own safety while out using their open access rights and they need to be mindful of any difficult ground conditions etc. Land managers also have responsibilities under the Countryside Code to make it easy for visitors to act responsibly and identify possible threats to visitor's safety. You can find out more about the Countryside Code here.
On open access land, landowners/land managers can apply for restrictions if, for example, they need to exclude the public for specific periods e.g. during clear felling. This gives them more flexibility in how they manage their land.
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. You can find out more about access rights in Scotland here.
In England and Wales, since the Countryside and Rights of Way Act was introduced in 2000, walkers have been given a right to freely explore parts of the countryside. Whilst this act was a milestone in our campaign for access to the countryside, it only opened up certain types of land and woodland wasn’t included.
November 6 marks the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, a historic document that gave common people the right of access to forest land.
This can be seen as the first step in a campaign spanning centuries, seeking the legal guarantee of freedom for people to access our beautiful landscapes. In more recent years we have seen the Kinder Scout trespass, the founding of the Ramblers, the establishment of National Parks and National Trails, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act and the right to create the England Coast Path, among many other achievements.
Access timeline for the full access story.
The Charter of the Forest was a significant milestone in our access journey as it provided the first legal rights of access in Britain. Since our formation in 1935, the Ramblers have continued to campaign to secure and protect access rights to Britain’s treasured landscapes. We wanted to mark this momentous anniversary, and also use this opportunity to start thinking about the next step in our access journey.
In England and Wales we have a world renowned network of footpaths which everyone has the right to walk on. These paths are known as “public rights of way”. We also have the right, in certain places, to walk off these paths, across privately owned land. This is known as “open access” land. Open access gives you the chance to walk freely, explore wild, open landscapes and find your own way.
The England Coast Path, due to be completed in 2020, is giving us a right of access to some areas of land between the path and the sea. This is known as the coastal margin and allows people to explore dunes, cliff slopes and beaches, right up to the water’s edge.
Read our access guide to find out more.
Scotland has different rights of access to England and Wales. If you want to find out more about your access rights in Scotland, download our ‘Scotland on Foot’ guide.
Our recent Omnibus survey showed that people would be more likely to make the most of open access land if more information was available about their rights and responsibilities. There are a lot of people out there who want to go out and explore – we just need to give them the information to do it responsibly and safely. That’s why we’ve produced a guide, available here, with everything people need to get out and confidently explore the countryside.
The Ramblers has been leading the way in opening up access to the countryside. Britain has come a very long way in the last 800 years, since the Charter of the Forest granted ordinary people the right to access royal forests
It’s amazing to look back and see just how far we’ve come thanks to campaigning efforts and an overwhelming public will for opening up the countryside. But our job is not yet done.
On the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest, we’re thinking about the opportunities there will be over the next 800 years to allow people to make the most of the great outdoors. This anniversary really brings to life the long history of the struggle for greater access to the countryside.
But what do people want for the next 800 years?
We’re kicking off a nationwide debate, gathering thoughts from everyone in order to help shape the future of access. Share your views by completing our survey
If you want to find open access land in a certain area you can search the Natural England map here. Ramblers’ members have access to our OS map library – just get in touch if you would like to borrow one. Open access land is marked on Ordnance Survey maps as a yellow wash, and coastal access land is marked as a magenta wash.
Use our access guide to find out more about where you can walk in areas of open access.
Yes! We need as many people as possible to sign the petition, so share it with friends and family, share the link on social media, and tell people about the campaign when you are out walking.
In addition to the petition, we’re kicking off a nationwide debate, gathering thoughts from everyone in order to help shape the future of access. Share your views and ask other people to share theirs by completing our survey.
If you have taken the survey and signed the petition, and shared them both with everyone you know, the final thing left to do is grab a map, find some access land and go walking!
Yes. This campaign is very much a starting point as we look towards the future of access and the next 800 years in this journey. We will keep you updated with our campaign to increase access to woodland, and with the next steps in our access journey.