Policy actions  1 of 5

Public access to land

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 introduced new rights of responsible public access to land and the countryside. 

Access rights are upheld and managed on the ground by local authorities and National Park authorities (called the access authorities).

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out the rights and responsibilities of land managers and those exercising access rights.

Access rights

Part 1 of the Act sets out a right of responsible non-motorised access for recreational and other purposes, to land and inland water throughout Scotland, with a few exceptions. 

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code sets out where access rights apply and what can be done within access rights. It also describes where access rights don’t apply, such as fields of crops or the gardens of houses.

The right of access only applies if it is exercised responsibly, and the Code sets out what counts as responsible behaviour in a variety of circumstances, and the kind of land management activities that should not be interfered with.

Part 1 of the Act focuses on the management of access at a local level and provides access authorities with adequate powers to manage access in their area. The access authorities are responsible for upholding the exercise of access rights over any route, waterway or other means by which access rights may be exercised, and if access is being prevented they can serve a notice requiring the obstruction to be removed.

Management of access

Part 1 of the Act sets out that management of access is the responsibility of access authorities, and gives them duties and powers to manage access in their areas.

The main duties placed on access authorities are:

  • to uphold the exercise of access rights over any route, waterway or other means by which access rights may be exercised
  • to plan for a system of core paths that gives the public reasonable access throughout their area
  • to establish one or more local access forums for their area
  • to publicise the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Core paths must cater for everyone, including those with disabilities. In drawing up their core paths plans, access authorities must consider people who seek to exercise their access rights and consult on their plan with the local access forum and local communities. If access authorities wish to review their core paths plan at a later date, they must hold a further consultation. 

Where a valid objection is made and not withdrawn, the core paths plan will go to a Local Inquiry and will not be adopted unless directed to do so by Scottish Ministers.

SNH provide a map showing all the core paths in Scotland

Monitoring the Act’s implementation

We have established an annual monitoring return to collect information from access authorities on their progress and expenditure in fulfilling the duties and using the powers set out above and in the Act.

The data received is compiled into a database for analysis and to give information at a national level. We publish the reports for monitoring implementation of Part 1 of the Land Reform Act.

Public access delivery plan

In partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the National Access Forum (NAF) we produced a public access delivery plan for action under Part 1 of the Act.

The plan details the tasks for us, the access authorities, SNH, NAF, local access forums, Historic Scotland, public agencies, Sheriff Courts, the police, membership organisations, the Paths for All partnership, and network organisations.

Access queries

Any queries relating to Scottish access rights should be directed to the access officer at the relevant local authority, or if within a National Park, the Park Authority. The access officer can help with:

  • mediating with a land manager for you, if access rights are being illegally prevented
  • clarifying where access rights do and do not apply on someone’s property
  • deciding what routes should be promoted across property, including alternative routes where a land management activity is taking place
  • putting up signs to indicate routes to take, remind people of their responsibilities, or warn them of hazards

If you are dissatisfied with the local access officer’s response, you can ask for the matter to be referred to the local access forum. Ultimately, matters can be referred to the courts for judicial determination on where access rights apply, or what is responsible behaviour by land managers or those exercising access rights.

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