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The Right to Roam



The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, commonly known as the CRoW Act, was introduced to implement a ‘right to roam’ that had been demanded by ramblers for many years. The history and background to the Act is interesting. In 1932 a mass trespass by hundreds of ramblers across the mountains and moorlands of the Peak District highlight the fact that large swathes of open countryside across England and Wales were not accessible.

Standing in defiant opposition were gamekeepers, determined to keep trespassers off grouse shooting moorland given to the landed gentry by countless Inclosure Acts of the 18th and 19th Century that effectively excluded the common man. While the mass trespass failed to change the law, it did however start to raise public awareness and encourage a change in the nation’s mindset that resulted in the introduction of the CRoW Act.

Unfortunately, while the CRoW Act reopened up large areas to the public, it was also largely misunderstood. The Act itself normally gives a public right of access to land mapped as ‘open country’ (mountain, moor, heath and down) or registered common land. This also includes much of the ‘coastal margin’. These areas are known as ‘open access land’. However, confused and enthused by the term ‘right to roam’, many people assumed they had a right to roam across any land, with the result that incidences of trespass increased dramatically across England and Wales in the immediate period following the introduction of the Act.

While the CRoW Act gives access to ‘open access land’, it also stipulates activities than can and cannot be conducted on your land if it incorporates ‘open access land’ areas. These restrictions essentially allow people to walk, sight see, bird-watch, run and climb, but forbid other activities including commercial activities, use of vehicles, damage, create litter, light fires, and ride a horse or bike. Again, a general misunderstanding and ignorance of the detail of the right to roam has led to many incidences when these restrictions have been ignored, resulting in inconvenience and often cost for rectification for the landowner.

If your land incorporates ‘open access land’ it is important to understand the limited liability you have should an accident occur to anyone using that land. Unless you set out to create a risk, or are reckless about whether a risk is created, you are not liable for any injury caused by any natural feature of the landscape (including any tree, shrub, plant, river, stream, ditch or pond, whether natural or not), or people passing over, under or through a wall, fence or gate, except if they are making proper use of a gate or stile. This is an important consideration in a society fixated with a ‘compensation culture’. Landowners should be aware of their limited liability as there is a high likelihood they will be challenged with a claim for compensation following any injury or damage that happens on their land.