As an owner or manager of land in the coastal margin, find out about your responsibilities and how to manage public access.
The England Coast Path (ECP) is a new national trail being created by Natural England. For the first time people will have the right of access around all of our open coast.
As part of this work a coastal margin is being identified which includes all land seaward of the trail. Much of the coastal margin is open access land under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act).
How your coastal land is affected
Natural England must:
- aim to strike a “fair balance” between your property interests and the public’s rights to enjoy open-air recreation on coastal land
Coastal access won’t:
- take the ownership of your land away from you - you can still manage your land as you see fit
- create new public rights through your private space around houses such as gardens
- interfere with any businesses you run on your coastal land unnecessarily
If your land is affected by erosion or other coastal change, it will be possible to roll back the line of the trail. This means the route can move without Natural England having to go to the Secretary of State for approval, so that response to natural changes - such as erosion - is managed quickly.
Your local access authority will install signs to mark the route as necessary, and any new gates required for access through your land. This work is paid for by Natural England, who also help with the authority’s maintenance costs once the route is open.
What people can do on your land
People can normally access your land in the coastal margin on foot. They can:
Visitors to your land can carry out any activities if:
- they’re allowed by the law on footpaths, bridleways and other public rights of way
- you give them permission to do something on the list of what people can’t usually do on your land
- they’re allowed to do something where a right already exists
Visitors using their rights must always keep dogs:
- under effective control
- on a short lead in the vicinity of livestock
What people can’t do on your land
The CROW Act has a list of general restrictions that limit what people may do, unless you give them permission to do something on the list.
- ride a horse or bicycle
- drive a vehicle (unless it’s an invalid carriage)
- bring an animal, other than a dog
- play organised games
- hang-glide or paraglide
- use a metal detector
run commercial activities on the land such as:
- trade or sell
- charge other visitors for things they do on your land
- film, photograph or make maps
- remove, damage, or destroy any plant, shrub, tree or root with intent
- light, cause or risk a fire
- damage hedges, fences, walls, crops or anything else on the land
- leave gates open, that are not propped or fastened open
- leave litter
- disturb livestock, wildlife or habitats with intent
- post any notices
- commit any criminal offence
Land that doesn’t have public access
The CROW Act excludes the right of access to land known as ‘excepted land’ even if it appears as open access land on maps, such as CROW Act maps.
Types of land that are fully excepted include:
- buildings or the curtilage of such land, for example courtyards
- parks or gardens
- quarries and other active mineral workings (except, under certain circumstances, the removal of sand or shingle from an area of foreshore or beach)
- railways or tramways
- temporary livestock pens
- racecourses or aerodromes
- land which is being developed and which will become excepted land in future
- land covered by structures like electricity substations, wind turbines, telephone masts works, other than, flood defences or sea defences
- land under Ministry of Defence byelaws, such as most military training areas
- schools including playing fields
- land which forms part of a public highway
Excepted land with provision for an access strip normally 4 metres wide includes:
- land ploughed for the growing of crops or trees in the past year
- golf courses
- regulated caravan or camping sites
- burial grounds
Your liability to the public
Your level of occupier liability is reduced when new coastal access rights are created along the ECP or within the coastal margin. You’re not responsible for any damage or injury caused by any physical feature on the land, whether it’s a natural feature of the landscape or a man-made one.
You can’t charge visitors for access but you can charge for goods, services and facilities, such as deck chair hire, parking and entry to attractions.
Development on your land
You can develop your land subject to approval from your local planning authority. You should contact Natural England about your plans if your development may affect the ECP or a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).
Natural England can submit a report to the Secretary of State recommending a change to the ECP if it’s affected by your development.
If visitors are likely to disrupt your work or be put in danger by it, you can put up warning signs. If necessary Natural England can help you restrict or exclude access.
Open your land for public access
If you own land or hold a lease which has more than 90 years left to run, you can voluntarily create public access rights by dedicating the land under section 16 of the CROW Act.
This dedication is permanent (or, where appropriate, lasts for the duration of the long lease), so the rights will continue to apply when you no longer own the land.
You can use a dedication to:
- provide a legal public right of access to land that would not otherwise be covered by the CROW Act, for example woodland
- make sure that public access remains available even if the land ceases to be open access land
- allow public access to areas in the coastal margin that are usually excepted land
You can also allow additional recreational activities to take place on your land by relaxing or removing one or more of the general restrictions, for example to allow people to ride horses. This can be done either through a permanent dedication, or by agreeing to a ‘direction’ that makes this change indefinitely or for a specified period of time.
Contact the Open Access Contact Centre for further advice on dedicating land or relaxing or removing general restrictions.
Restrict public access
The route of the ECP is designed to be sensitive to land use. It can:
- pass along the seaward edge of fields
- pass along existing paths and tracks (where available)
- avoid unsuitable areas of your land, for example sites used for heavy industry
You can use either informal measures, such as signing, or legal restrictions, to manage public access and avoid conflict with your land management activities.
You can mark the boundaries of open access land with the access symbol. The ECP will be signed with the national trails ‘acorn symbol’. See the Countryside Code for more information on these symbols.
Any need for formal restrictions or exclusions of public access will be discussed with you when the route and coastal margin are being planned. If circumstances change later and you think visitors may disrupt your work or be endangered by it, you can speak to Natural England about how to manage your operations which may include formal restrictions or exclusions if necessary.
See Open access land and the coastal margin: how to restrict public access for more information.
Open Access Contact Centre
Telephone 0300 060 2091