Open access land and the coastal margin: how to restrict public access

As an owner or manager of land, understand how to restrict public access for land management, public safety or fire prevention reasons.

Applies to England

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW Act) normally gives a public right of access to land mapped as open country (mountain, moor, heath and down) or registered common land. These areas are known as ‘open access land’.

A coastal margin is being created as part of the work to implement the England Coast Path (ECP). Much of the coastal margin is open access land under the CROW Act.

You may be able to limit a public right of access under the CROW Act if you own or have a legal interest in the land. These are known as restrictions.

You cannot use these powers to restrict access on:

Restrictions you do not need to apply for

28-day restrictions

You can exclude or restrict public access rights for up to 28 days per calendar year except for land in the coastal margin. On tenanted land, the farm tenant has the 28-day restrictions allowance, not the land owner.

You can’t use these restrictions on:

  • bank holidays, Christmas Day or Good Friday
  • Saturdays between 1 June and 11 August
  • Sundays between 1 June and 30 September
  • more than 4 weekend days in any calendar year

Tell Natural England’s Open Access Contact Centre (OACC) about these restrictions beforehand. The amount of notice you need to give depends on the circumstances.

Dog control

Visitors using their open access rights must keep their dogs on a short lead of no more than 2 metres between 1 March and 31 July each year and at all times near livestock.

In the coastal margin, dogs must be under effective control at all times.

Landowners or farm tenants can exclude people with dogs from a field of up to 15 hectares used for lambing for one period of up to 6 weeks each calendar year.

Landowners can exclude people with dogs from land managed as a grouse moor for up to 5 years at a time, except along public rights of way.

The lambing and grouse moor restrictions do not apply to:

  • people with registered assistance dogs
  • land in the coastal margin
  • land with no access rights under the CROW Act

Coastal access report

You do not need to apply for land management restrictions covered by a coastal access report. These are identified in discussion with land managers and others when Natural England’s coastal access proposals are initially developed. You can object if you disagree with restrictions in the coastal access report.

Restrictions you must apply for

You can apply to restrict public access rights to open access land and the coastal margin under the CROW Act if you hold a legal interest in the land. This includes:

  • the owner
  • tenants
  • individuals who hold rights over registered common land
  • individuals or organisations with sporting or other ‘property’ rights over land held under licence or agreement

You can apply to restrict access for any period of the year, but only if this is necessary for land management, public safety or fire prevention reasons.

Apply to the ‘relevant authority’, which is:

  • the national park authority for land within a national park
  • the Forestry Commission for dedicated woodland
  • Natural England for all other open access land in England, and for all land in the coastal margin

Land management

You may apply for a restriction for any type of land management activity on access land including:

  • farming
  • forestry
  • sporting activities
  • events

If you have rights over an area of registered common land, you may only apply for a restriction directly related to the rights you hold.

Public safety

Relevant authorities may give public safety restrictions on access land without receiving an application, where they consider this necessary.

You may apply for a safety restriction on your land such as work operations involving machinery, but not to manage risks to public safety from natural features such as cliffs or potholes. Visitors to your land should take responsibility to keep themselves and their children safe. You don’t need to apply for safety restrictions covered by a coastal access report, see applying for a restriction.

Your liability to the public

On open access land, unless you set out to create a risk or are reckless about whether a risk is created, you’re not liable for any injury caused by:

  • a natural feature of the landscape, including any tree, shrub, plant, river, stream
  • any ditch or pond, whether natural or not
  • people passing over, under or through a wall, fence or gate, except if they are making proper use of a gate or stile

In the coastal margin you’re not liable for any injury caused by any physical feature on the land, whether natural or man-made. Read guidance on liabilities on coastal margins. The courts decide on interpretation of the legislation on public liability. Consult a lawyer for legal advice on a specific case.

Fire prevention

The relevant authority may give restrictions for fire prevention during exceptional conditions with or without an application from the land manager. These restrictions aim to minimise the risk of accidental fires breaking out or spreading. They cannot be used along the ECP.

The Met Office has developed a Fire Severity Index (FSI) to give an objective method of identifying when exceptional conditions occur. You can view the FSI maps on the Met Office website.

Contact the OACC if you feel that a fire prevention restriction is required for your land. You need to do this before exceptional conditions occur, to avoid unnecessary delay at those times.

Land with pre-existing public access rights

Open access rights that existed before 2000 are likely to still apply. Land with these pre-existing rights is known as ‘section 15 land’. Access rights and restriction powers under the CROW Act don’t apply to section 15 land.

Use the Magic website to find section 15 land:

  1. Click ‘Get started’.
  2. Read the terms and conditions and if acceptable, tick box and click ‘OK’.
  3. On the left-hand side of the screen, click the ‘+’ symbol to expand the ‘Access’ section.
  4. Select: ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act, Section 15 Land (England)’.
  5. Use the map search or zoom functions to view the area of land you are interested in.

Applying for a restriction

Contact the OACC to apply for a restriction.

Coastal margin

You don’t need to apply for land management restrictions included in a coastal access report. Once the ECP is open, you can apply for other restrictions in the coastal margin – for example if circumstances change on the ground.

Restriction decisions

The relevant authority uses Natural England’s guidance to make restriction or exclusion decisions. The relevant authority may:

  • give the restriction you applied for
  • give a restriction that’s different from the one you applied for, but meets the need
  • refuse your application, if they consider it is not necessary

The decision will be the least restrictive option that meets the need without placing a significant cost on you.

You’ll receive a decision in writing from the relevant authority within:

  • 6 weeks for applications to restrict public access for less than 6 months
  • 4 months for applications to restrict public access for more than 6 months

For restrictions longer than 6 months the relevant authority must consult:

  • the local access forum
  • other interested parties such as the National Farmers Union and Ramblers

Contact the OACC for more about Natural England’s guidance.

Restriction dates

You should include exact dates for the restriction in your application. You’ll receive an outline restriction in writing if exact dates are not known. Contact the OACC when you know the dates.

Appeal a decision

If you disagree with the relevant authority’s decision on your application, you have the right to appeal to the Secretary of State within 6 weeks from the date of the decision by contacting the Planning Inspectorate.

Checks on whether the restriction is still needed

The relevant authority must review a restriction lasting more than 5 years at least once every 5 years. The relevant authority will tell you when this is happening.

Relevant authority restrictions

The relevant authority can close public access land without an application from you. Such instances include:

  • nature conservation
  • heritage preservation
  • fire prevention
  • public safety
  • land management reasons in the coastal margin

The relevant authority will contact you if this applies to your land.

The Secretary of State for Defence or the Home Secretary may also restrict public access without receiving an application, for defence or national security reasons.

Tell the public about the restriction

Natural England publishes restrictions on the CROW access maps website.

You can draw visitors’ attention to restrictions on your land with signs placed where they’re most likely to enter the area. Contact your access authority for more advice. The access authority is the national park authority for land within a national park or the local highway authority elsewhere.


Open Access Contact Centre


Telephone 0300 060 2091

Published 27 March 2015