Access Rights (Scotland) and Wild Camping…

Ahead of what I hope to be a great season in the outdoors, here’s a little reminder (to myself) of what’s legit. I hope I won’t need to quote it, but given that a grumpy git in Dalgety Bay last week told Susan that she had no right to ride her bike on a bridleway you can never be over-prepared…

Amended Statutory Access Rights and the Scottish Access Code came into effect on the 9th of February 2005. In short this code serves to give best practice advice to both landowners and countryside users alike with the aim of opening up rural tracks and paths to the general public for recreational use.

One of the joys of visiting Scotland is to appreciate their long standing culture of their ‘no trespass law’ in which so long as nothing is disturbed you will have the right to wander the land as you please.

Whether strolling through a forest, kayaking down roaring rapids, or wild camping in the middle of nowhere, you have a right to explore much of the Scottish countryside. In return, you should learn and follow some rules to make sure you are safe and don’t disturb wildlife or local people.

The new laws which have been bandied around the Scottish Parliament for the last two years have attempted to rectify certain grey areas in this field and no doubt we will be seeing more advertisements in the ‘Know before you go’ vein. For further details on the new rights of access – click here, or download the Outdoor Access code in full.

Legally speaking the Trespass (Scotland) Act of 1865 makes it an offence to camp or light fires on private land without the consent of the landowner. This has not been used recently against hillwalkers and wild camping is tolerated. The Mountaineering Council of Scotland has long campaigned to have this legislation amended so responsible wild camping is no longer technically a criminal offense.

Another law on the statute book is the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act (1994). This gives police powers to deal with either an encampment which involves more than six vehicles or a smaller encampment where there is damage or a public order offence. This was introduced to deal with so called ‘new age travellers’. It has not yet affected wild camping and is unlikely to do so.

Finally, the Road Traffic Act 1988 makes it an offence to drive a motor vehicle onto private land without lawful authority. No offence is committed, however, where a person drives within 15 yards of a public road for the purpose of parking (that’s 13.716 metres – to be precise).

Returning to the Outdoor Access Code specifically, here’s a summary of some of the main features of the legislation:

Your access rights

  • Everyone has the statutory right of access
  • Access rights apply to all land and inland waters, unless excluded (as below)
  • Access rights are for outdoor recreation, for crossing land and water, and for some educational and commercial purposes
  • Exercising access rights, and managing access land, must be done responsibly

Where you cannot go by access rights

  • Non-residential buildings and associated land, and structures
  • Houses and sufficient adjacent land to provide reasonable privacy
  • Land around any school and used by the school
  • Compounds, building sites
  • Sports and playing fields when in use
  • Land developed or set out for particular recreational purposes
  • Grassland growing for hay and silage which is at such a
  • late stage of growth that it is likely to be damaged by exercise of access rights.
  • Land in which crops have been sown or are growing (although please note that the headrigs, endrigs and other margins of fields where crops are growing are not defined as crops, whether sown or unsown, and are therefore within access rights)

What you cannot do by access rights

  • Motorised access (although see RTA above)
  • Hunting, shooting, fishing
  • Having a dog not under proper control

Other Legislation

  • Public rights of way will continue to exist and are unaffected by the Act
  • Public rights on the foreshore and in tidal waters will continue to exist
  • Liability – the Act makes clear that the extent of the duty of care owed by a land manager is unaffected
  • Access rights do not extend to criminal activity which is defined by various statutory offences

Wild camping is one of the great pleasures of exploring the Scottish countryside. There’s few more enjoyable ways to spend an evening than sitting by a remote Highland lochan, a glass of whisky in hand, watching the sun set over the mountains. It’s an experience everyone should enjoy, at least once in their lives.

In reality it doesn’t happen too often in Scotland that your idyllic outdoor moments are tarnished by a sudden visit from an angry land owner or estate factor demanding you clear off their land, and if you camp responsibly it really shouldn’t ever happen to you.


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