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Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003

Access logo This legislation should assist and make access to the outdoors for activities like walking more straightforward and easy. The act also applies to other outdoor pursuits like cycling, horses riding, water pursuits and more extreme sports. This summary will deal primarily with the walking aspects be it as a family and social activity, an active pursuit or participation as part of an event.

The Act places varying responsibilities on the individual seeking access rights, the Land Manager* and the Public and Local Authorities. This summary will restrict itself to mainly consider the responsibilities that are placed on the individual or group of individuals who are wanting to exercise their access rights.

(* The land manager is a term used in the Code that refers to the owners, tenants and those employed to manage the lands or estates.)

The whole Act may be summarised as applying courtesy, consideration, good manners and respecting the needs of others when enjoying the outdoor. If all were to follow the following three key principals then effectively the Code would be implemented in full.
  • Respect the interests of other people. In exercising your right of access respect the privacy, safety and livelihoods of those living and working in the outdoor as well as others enjoying that right, and for the land manger it is the respect of the individuals right to a safe and enjoyable visit.
  • Care of the Environment. This is the need to look after the outdoors that you are visiting and to leave the land in the condition you found it. For the land manager it is the need to maintain the natural and cultural features which make this outdoor attractive to visit.
  • Take responsibility for your own actions. For the individual it is the recognition that the outdoors is not risk free and that you should act with care at all times for yourself and others. The land manger also should act with care at all times with regards to people’s safety.
The Code also places some obligations on the Local and Public authorities, this mainly in the upholding of access rights, development of a Core Paths Network and the setting up of at least one local access forum in its area.

This new legislation will not effect the law as it applies to already established Rights of Way but it will impact on the access to other paths, fields, moor land, mountains and lochs etc that were not previously defined by such a designation. What this code does is to give access to open land other than that of:

  • private homes and caravans etc,
  • gardens,
  • land with other plant or buildings,
  • land that is growing crops or being used for activities like quarrying building or demolition,
  • railways, airfields etc,
  • pitches and land or water which has been set out for a formal recreation
  • land surrounding schools.
Some land may also be restricted on occasions based on other legislation or for reason of temporary closure.

This right of access is covered by the Code provided the purpose of the access is in pursuit of a legal pastime, that the individual is not using the access for business gain* and that any dog owner has their animals in proper control.

(* Companies or individual such as walking guides or outdoor instructors can still have open access even although they are receiving payment, since the activity is one that is facilitating their clients in a legal pursuit.)

When a person exercises their access right they are also taking on a personal responsibility for their actions. Under the subject of ‘natural hazards’ there is a long established principal of “volenti non fit injuria” which implies that you take access accepting any obvious risk or risks that are inherent in the activity. This principle remains within the code and added to that is the need to respect the privacy of the landowners, occupiers and residents, respect the working environment of the land manager, do nothing that will impinge on the business aspects of the land manager, look after the environment and take special care when enjoying the outdoors with younger persons. On the land managers side they must not interfere unreasonably with the individuals right to access.

Below are set out some of the key details that may appear to be common sense but which are also seen as pertinent to walking. This list cannot be taken as fully comprehensive but is thought to be a good starting point. If a walker is looking for more information and guidance they should visit the following website. www.outdooraccess-scotland.com

  • There is no access to house gardens however when it comes to larger “policies” the access rights are still restricted within the Code unless the policies are not intensively managed, in which case access rights exist.
  • Access into fields where there are bulls or pigs should not take place and the walker should use an adjoining field or path to avoid these animals. Great caution should also be take when there are lambs and calves in the field and where possible a walker should avoid the field or keep well away from the animals.
  • Do not walk through fields that have crops planted or growing, keep to the edge and restrict the width to single file if the cultivation is close to the fence boundary.
  • If you have to climb gates or dykes do so carefully and for gate do it at the hinge end.
  • Keep dogs under close control or on a lead and when stock is present try to separate them from the field with the stock. Dogs should not be allowed in fields where vegetables or fruit are being grown unless there is a defined path and dog owners should always clear up any faeces.
  • A grass field being grown for silage is regarded as a field with a crop once the height is 20 cm or 8 inches.
  • Walkers must take all litter home.
  • Walkers needing to attend to human requirements should do so away from open water and if defecating they should bury it in a shallow hole as far from any civilisation as possible.
  • Walkers need to respect natural and cultural heritage and in particular also recognise that they can disturb breading bird and unset gaming activities at certain times of the year.
  • Walkers also need to respect any temporary restrictions that the land manager may impose due to land management work such as forestry harvesting, agricultural work, repair to land etc. It is also the land managers requirement to act reasonably when asking walkers to avoid land operations, to direct walkers to alternative routes and to minimise the time of restriction.
Finally, wild camping is defined as lightweight tents of a small number and spending no more than 2 or 3 nights in one location. Under these conditions and provided the site is vacated in the same condition as found, and campers respect all the conditions that apply to responsible walking activities etc., this form of camping will come within the access rights of the Code.

In the unlikely event of there being a dispute between the person seeking access and the land manager the ultimate course of action is as follows:

  • Land managers can ask people to behave responsibly but cannot use force, their ultimate sanction if the irresponsible actions persist is to seek an Interdict.
  • The public being refused access rights can report the problem to the Local Authority who has the powers to remove obstructions and to order the land manager to uphold the access rights.
  • In the very worst cases of dispute and the inability to resolve the problem the dispute could be take to the Sheriff and they would make a judgement based on the Code.

Access sysmbols
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