There is a general right of access to all land and inland water in Scotland, although some land is excluded from access altogether and where access is allowed people must behave in a responsible manner. Some people call this the “right to roam”, but a better name would be the “right of responsible access”. Public rights of way exist but are less extensive than in England and Wales. They are traditional routes that are established under common law and there is no single statute governing them. Finally, there is a network of core paths created by local authorities under statutory powers.
There is no requirement to maintain a definitive map of public rights of way, which is why they are not highlighted on Ordnance Survey maps. ScotWays created a national record of public rights of way, called the Catalogue of Rights of Way (CROW).
A right of way comes into being if it fulfils the following four criteria:
- It must join two public places (e.g. public roads or other rights of way);
- It follows a more or less defined route;
- It has been used, openly and peaceably, by the general public, as a matter of right, i.e. not just with the permission of the landowner; and
- It has been used without substantial interruption for at least twenty years.
The general right of access, access rights, applies to all non-motorised users provided they behave responsibly. Acting responsibly means acting lawfully, without unreasonable interference with the rights and interests of others, and following the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.
Access rights apply to all land and inland water unless the land falls within one of the few exceptions listed in the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 or has been temporarily removed by order of the local authority. The main excluded areas are generally:
Residences and space around them to give residents reasonable privacy and lack of disturbance (i.e the garden area).
- Other buildings, works and structures, and the areas around them (curtilages).
- Land where crops are growing. Grass is not treated as a crop, except hay and silage in the late stages of growth. You can exercise access rights on field margins.
- Land next to and used by a school.
- Places, such as visitor attractions, which charge for entry (depending on the use on 31 January 2001).
- Land on which building or engineering works are being carried out, or which is being used for mineral working or quarrying.
- Land developed and in use for a particular recreational purpose, where the exercise of access rights would interfere with this use.
- Land set out for a particular recreational purpose or as a sports or playing field when it is being used for that purpose and exercise of the rights would interfere with the use. Access rights never apply to artificial sports surfaces, such as golf greens, tennis courts or bowling greens.
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 required each local authority to identify and consult on a network of core paths. These are shown in their core paths plans but are not highlighted on Ordnance Survey maps. There is no requirement for any of the core paths to be created on the ground, to be maintained or signposted.
For further information on access rights in Scotland have a look at our leaflet Public Access in Scotland – Know Your Rights, buy a copy of our law guide The ScotWays Guide to The Law of Access to Land in Scotland, visit the Core Paths Website or search through Ken.