We are extremely lucky in England, having excellent legal rights for walking in the countryside , but do you know exactly where you can and can’t walk without upsetting landowners or breaking the law?
There are basically two things that give us a legal right to walk somewhere – public rights of way, and Access Land. There are also specially negotiated arrangements on permissive paths where we have no legal right, but access is by the agreement of the landowner.
Public rights of way
We can walk on rights of way such as roads, footpaths, bridleways and byways. These are marked on Ordnance Survey maps as green dashed lines, or green dots on the 1:25,000 scale maps, or red dashed lines on the 1:50,000 scale maps. They are often quite obvious when you get there as many have signposts showing the way, or the little round discs with yellow arrows are becoming popular. Public footpaths often pass through fields and farm land, and you should be careful to stick to the official route of the path.
We are fortunate in the Peak District that the majority of our footpaths and bridleways are well maintained and well signposted.
Access Peak District Land
In the year 2000, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act identified areas of open countryside as ‘Access Land’. We have the legal right to walk anywhere across Access Land and we do not have to stay on the paths. Large parts of the Peak District’s moorlands and hills are designated as Access Land.
Access land can be easily identified on 1:25,000 scale Ordnance Survey maps as it is highlighted a pale yellow colour, and woodland highlighted lime green. It is also common for there to be a little white circular sign with the outline of a brown man walking as you enter Access Land. The same sign with a diagonal red line through it indicates that you are leaving Access Land.
Beware, however as Access Land can be closed to the public at certain times, and you need to check whether any closures are going to be in force when you are planning your walk. It can be closed to the public indefinitely for reasons such as fire risk, to protect wildlife, or for national security. Land owners also have the legal right to close their Access Land to the public for up to 28 days each year without giving a reason.
In addition to possible closures, you also need to be aware of any restrictions that may be in force. In the Peak District for example, there are currently restrictions banning dogs on several moorlands. This means that you cannot take your dog on a walk on these moorlands even if it is kept on a lead. A few of the moorlands where this ban on dogs is currently in force are Axe Edge Moor, Strines Moor, Bamford Moor and Bamford Edge, Derwent Moors, and Eyam Moor. The ban does not apply to public rights of way however if they pass over the Access Land.
Even if there are no closures and no restrictions on the Access Land you are planning to cross, you should carefully consider your impact on the natural environment before venturing out. In spring and early summer, many ground nesting birds have their nests amongst the heather on our beautiful moorlands. Even an individual person walking across the moors can disturb them, and a group could have devastating results.
At Peak Walking Adventures, we strongly advocate a ‘Leave no Trace’ policy. After you have walked over an area, there should be no evidence that you have ever been there.
It is quite easy to check for any current closures or restrictions on Access Land. You can simply go to the Natural England website http://www.openaccess.naturalengland.org.uk/wps/portal/oasys/maps/MapSearch and search for the area you are interested in and on the date you are intending to go. You can then view maps, and download documents containing all the information you need.
If all that sounds too much trouble, you can always book onto a guided walk! There are several businesses in the Peak District that offer excellent guided walks, ourselves included. We make all those checks for you in addition to eliminating the burden of navigation. We also help to ‘bring the countryside to life’ by sharing with you a wealth of local knowledge.
Happy Peak District Walking!
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