Wandering Free - All about Open Access Land

What is Open Access Land?

In England and Wales, when we’re out in the countryside, in the main we are walking along public footpaths and bridleways. These rights of way legally entitle us to walk across otherwise private land. However 8% of England and Wales is designated as Open Access land, which gives you the ‘right to roam’. Broadly speaking this means you are not restricted to marked or unmarked footpaths, but can head across country whichever way you want. In the main it covers mountains, moorland, heathland and ‘common land’.

So why haven’t I heard about it?

It’s a relatively recent concept, only enshrined in law since the Countryside Rights of Way Act (CRoW) was passed in 2000.

Can I really walk anywhere on Open Access Land?

Er, no, not quite. ALL land in England and Wales is owned by someone. The nearest Open Access Land to me is owned by the Woodland Trust who have cordoned off certain areas for commercial forestry and protection of wild flowers. It’s not unreasonable for them to ask people to keep out of these areas, and it would be illegal for you to damage any fences they have erected. The same applies to crops a farmer may have planted. These are just small areas, however, and given that the owner of the land has allowed it to be designated Open Access, it seems like a fair deal to me.

So how can I tell if the land I am on is Open Access or not?

Good question. In theory this symbol on a post  means you are entering Open Access Land. But I can’t remember ever seeing one. If you look at a 1:25 000 Ordnance Survey map, however, these areas are shown very clearly as they are covered in a ‘yellow wash’ and bordered by a light orange band. The ‘yellow wash’ blends with the colour underneath, so whilst an open field will have a faint yellowy tinge, woodland turns from a relatively dull green into a brighter lime green.

OK, so I’m looking at a map, and I can see the green dashes of public footpaths and bridleways going across Open Access Land. What’s the point of that if it’s already ok to walk anywhere?

Another good question. This is because these rights of way existed before the CRoW Act came along and so are preserved on the map.

So I’m looking at a map of my local area where I often walk and even though I know I can walk anywhere, there are no markings on the map to indicate it is Open Access land. 

It’s probably not. It might be a local park, or land owned by the Forestry Commission or another organisation who are very happy for you to walk there. Whilst you effectively have the right to roam here, it isn’t classed in law as Open Access land.

Anything else?

Just that some types of Open Access Land are classed as excepted land which means you can’t walk there. Race courses, airfields and golf courses fall into this category. It makes no sense to me why this category exists, but there you go.