Open access land and the coastal margin: how to restrict public access
- Natural England
- Part of:
- England Coast Path: improving public access to the coast and Access and rights of way
- First published:
- 27 March 2015
- Applies to:
As a land manager, understand how to restrict public access to protect visitors, or your use of the land at certain times.
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’.
Much of the ‘coastal margin’ that is being created as part of the work to implement the England Coast Path, is also open access land under the same Act.
If you own or have a legal interest in land which has a public right of access under the rights of access under the CROW Act, it may be possible to limit this right at times if necessary. This page explains how.
You can’t use these powers to restrict land:
- along footpaths, bridleways or other public rights of way
- on open access land that already existed before the CROW Act
Restrictions you don’t need to apply for
You have the right to exclude or restrict public access to your land in certain circumstances if you are the land owner or farm tenant:
You can use these to exclude or restrict public access rights for up to 28 days per calendar year except for land in the coastal margin.
If you’re the farm tenant of the land, you, rather than the owner of the land have this 28 day restrictions allowance.
These restrictions can’t be used 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
You have to notify these restrictions to Natural England beforehand. The amount of notice you need to give depends on the circumstances. For more information, contact the Open Access Contact Centre (OACC).
There is a general rule that 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 (except in the coastal margin), and at all times in the vicinity of livestock. In the coastal margin, dogs must be under effective control at all times.
In some circumstances you may be entitled to exclude people with dogs completely from:
Small lambing fields
If you use a field of up to 15 hectares for lambing, you can exclude people with dogs from it for one period of up to 6 weeks in each calendar year if you are the landowner or farm tenant and the land isn’t part of the coastal margin.
If the land you own is managed as a grouse moor, you can exclude people with dogs from it for up to 5 years at a time, except along public rights of way.
You can find out more about how this works from the OACC. Note that:
these restrictions don’t apply to people with registered assistance dogs
they can’t be used on land on the ‘coastal margin’, or land with no access rights under the CROW Act.
Restrictions you do need to apply for
You can apply to restrict public access rights to open access land 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.
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.
Natural England may give land management restrictions in the coastal margin with or without an application from the land owner.
Public safety restrictions
You can’t restrict public access to manage risks to public safety from natural features (eg cliffs or potholes). Visitors to your land should take responsibility to keep themselves and their children safe.
You are not liable for any injuries caused by natural landscape features while the public rights of access under the CROW Act apply. In the coastal margin, you are not liable for any damage or injury caused by any physical feature on the land, whether it is a natural feature of the landscape or a man-made one.
Relevant authorities may give public safety restrictions on access land without receiving an application where they consider this necessary. The relevant authority 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
Fire prevention restrictions
Public access to areas mapped as open access land under the CROW Act may be suspended for the purpose of fire prevention in exceptional conditions. These restrictions aim to minimise the risk of accidental fires breaking out.
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.
If you feel that a fire prevention restriction is required for your land, contact the OACC for more information. You need to do this before exceptional conditions occur, to avoid unnecessary delay at those times.
Restrictions for fire prevention may be given by the relevant authority with or without an application from the land manager. They can’t be used along the England Coast Path.
Find out if land has pre-existing public access rights
Where open access rights existed over your land prior to 2000, they are likely to apply instead of the rights under the CROW Act, and the restriction powers under that Act won’t apply. Land subject to such pre-existing rights is called section 15 land, and you can view maps of these areas on the MAGIC website:
- 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
Restrictions that are needed on access land in the coastal margin will be identified when proposals for the route are published. You can apply to restrict land you own once the England Coast Path is open.
Contact the OACC if you want to apply for a restriction.
How your application will be assessed
If you submit an application, you will receive a decision 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 will decide whether a restriction or exclusion can be issued using the statutory guidance provided by Natural England. Contact the OACC if you want to know more about the statutory guidance.
The relevant authority will decide which is the least restrictive option that meets the need without placing a significant cost on the land owner. They may:
- give the restriction you applied for
- give a restriction that is different from the one you applied for, but meets the need
- refuse your application, if it they consider it isn’t necessary
The relevant authority must consult with the local access forum and other interested parties for applications involving a potential restriction of more than 6 months. Once the relevant authority has reached a decision they will provide you with details in writing.
If you don’t know the exact dates that a restriction will be required in advance, the relevant authority can give an outline restriction if necessary. You will normally then need to notify the OACC once you know when the restriction will be needed.
Appealing against the relevant authority’s 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
If you have been given a restriction that lasts for more than 5 years, the relevant authority must review it at least once every 5 years to make sure it is still appropriate.
The relevant authority will contact you when your restriction is being reviewed.
Relevant authority restrictions
In some circumstances the relevant authority can close public access land without you submitting an application. This can be done for:
- nature conservation
- heritage preservation
- fire prevention
- public safety
- land management reasons, in the coastal margin
- saltmarshes and flats in the coastal margin
You’ll be contacted by the relevant authority 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
Restrictions are published by Natural England on the CROW access maps website.
You may want to draw attention to restrictions on your land using signs placed where visitors are most likely to try to enter the land. Contact your access authority for more advice. The access authority is either your local county or unitary authority, or where appropriate, the national park authority.
For more information about restricting open access rights, contact OACC:
- email: email@example.com
- telephone: 0300 060 2091
Published: 27 March 2015