Outdoor Access in Scotland

In Scotland walkers, cyclists, horseriders and canoeists now enjoy perhaps the best arrangements for public access in Europe. Statutory rights of access over most land and water were established under the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, securing traditional rights and freedoms, and enabling new path networks to be developed.

However, access rights must be exercised responsibly, and guidance on your responsibilities is laid out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, under the following three principles:

  • Take responsibility for your own actions.
  • Respect the interests of other people.
  • Care for the environment.

Land managers also have reciprocal responsibilities to manage their land to facilitate access, and walkers and others must behave in ways which are compatible with land management needs. Local authorities and national park authorities have a duty and the powers to uphold access rights. Be guided by reasonable requests from land managers not to take access when, eg, tree felling is taking place or you might disturb nesting birds. Such requests should apply to specific areas and for short periods. Alternative routes may be suggested.

For more information and to download a copy of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, see www.outdooraccess-scotland.com or www.ramblers.org.uk/scotland.

Specific situations

Access rights also extend to lightweight, informal camping. For guidance on your responsibilities when camping see the Mountaineering Council of Scotland's leaflet here http://www.mcofs.org.uk/assets/pdfs/wildcamping.pdf

Farmyards are not included in the right of access, but you may still take access through farmyards by rights of way, custom or tradition. Farmers are encouraged to sign alternative routes if they do not want people passing through their farmyard. If you are going through a farmyard, proceed with care, watch out for machinery or livestock, and respect the privacy of those living on the farm.

Access rights apply to fields, but you should avoid damaging crops by using the margins of the field, walking on any unsown land, or following any paths or tracks, such as the tramlines left by tractors. Where grass has been grown for hay or silage, keep to margins or tracks when it is at a late stage of growth. Avoid disturbing farm animals by keeping a safe distance, and consider going into a neighbouring field or onto adjacent land to avoid young animals or sheep close to lambing time.

Dogs must be kept under proper control, and should not be taken into any field with young animals in it, or into fields of vegetables or fruit unless there is a clear path.

Access rights do not apply to houses or other buildings, or to the immediate surrounding areas including garden ground. Access rights apply to the woodland and grassland areas within the 'policies' of large estates but not to the mown lawns near the house.

Shooting Activities

Much of Scotland's upland areas are managed for deer or other sporting interests. Walkers should take account of reasonable requests to minimise disturbance when sport shooting or culling is taking place of deer, grouse or pheasants. Advice on red deer stalking may be available for some areas on the Hillphones service in late summer or early autumn. Disturbance can usually be minimised by following prominent ridges, main watercourses or routes through the glen.

Dealing with obstructions

If you experience any obstructions when trying to go for a walk, report the problem to the access officer at the local authority or national park authority. You should also inform national recreational organisations such as the Ramblers' Association Scotland, Mountaineering Council of Scotland, etc. Contact details for access officers can be found at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com.

Car parking

Access rights do not extend to any motorised activities. When parking your car, do not cause any damage or create an obstruction, and use a car park if there is one nearby.


Many thanks to Helen Todd for preparing this text. Helen is the Access Campaign Officer for the Ramblers' Association Scotland (enquiries:scotland@ramblers.org.uk)

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