Open access land and the coastal margin: how to restrict public access
- Natural England and Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
- Part of:
- England Coast Path: improving public access to the coast and Access and rights of way
- 27 March 2015
- Applies to:
As an owner or manager of land, understand how to restrict public access for land management, public safety or fire prevention reasons.
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 can’t use these powers to restrict access on:
- footpaths, bridleways or other public rights of way
- areas where CROW rights don’t apply, including open access land that existed before the CROW Act
Restrictions you don’t need to apply for
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.
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.
You 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
- 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 don’t 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 don’t 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
- 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
You may apply for a restriction for any type of land management activity on access land including:
- sporting activities
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.
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.
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 can’t 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:
- Click ‘Get started’.
- Read the terms and conditions and if acceptable, tick box and click ‘OK’.
- On the left-hand side of the screen, click the ‘+’ symbol to expand the ‘Access’ section.
- Select: ‘Countryside and Rights of Way Act, Section 15 Land (England)’.
- 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.
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.
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 isn’t 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
The relevant authority must consult with the local access forum and other interested parties such as the National Farmers Union and Ramblers if an application leads it to consider imposing a restriction of more than 6 months. Once the relevant authority has reached a decision they will provide you with details in writing.
Contact the OACC for more about Natural England’s guidance.
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