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Warning to walkers and ramblers over access to farmland
23 May 2019

Walkers and ramblers have been warned they have no automatic right of access to cross farm and private land despite the country’s Right to Roam legislation.

The warning from leading Midlands law firm FBC Manby Bowdler comes as tens of thousands of people prepare to head out to the countryside to enjoy the coming bank holiday weekend.  

But Tom Devey, partner in the Agricultural team at the law firm, said that whilst public footpaths were open to all, wandering across private land could land you in hot water for trespass. 

“The legal position is that you don’t have automatic access to walk across agricultural or other private land, even if you think doing so wouldn’t cause any damage,” he said.

However, under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, there is a ‘right to roam’ over certain areas of land. These include:

Any land shown on a map as ‘open country’
Registered common land (like parts of the New Forest, for example)
Land that’s higher than 600m above sea level
Dedicated land: landlords and tenants who have at least 90 years left on their lease can ‘dedicate’ land for public access. This does not automatically grant you access to any surrounding land that has not been dedicated.
He added: “This alone should be more than enough to keep even the most ardent roamer happy for years, but there are also areas of land that you cannot simply wander across, including some land that may be shown as open access land on a map, but remains private. 

“This is known as ‘excepted’ land, and the only way you can roam across it is to use dedicated footpaths, bridleways and rights of way. This includes a lot of agricultural land, fields and paddocks where racehorses are kept, and military land.”

And Mr Devey said whilst the right to roam lets you go onto open access land for the purpose of open-air recreation, it doesn’t give you carte blanche to then do what you want on that land, or cause any damage to hedgerows, fences or walls. 

“In England & Wales it also does not give you the right to ‘wild camp’ and if you breach any conditions (including allowing your dog to run free around livestock), then you can be treated as a trespasser. 
“This will mean the landowner has the right to stop you from going onto their land (even if it’s elsewhere) for 72 hours after you’ve been asked to leave.”

Even on open access land there was no right to light fires or cause damage, and access was only allowed on foot. 

And there is no right to ‘wild swim’ in non-tidal waters – so you must ask the landowner’s permission before taking a dip in lakes and rivers on private land.

Landowners also have the right to restrict access to their land for up to 28 days a year -  often during lambing season or at critical times during the year so that livestock are not at risk of being disturbed. 

Meet Tom Devey