Everyone can enjoy the great outdoors in Scotland, in part due to our liberal laws brought about by the Land Reform Act in 2003. Despite the fact that people own the land, we are free to take part in responsible outdoor activities, almost without exception.

Norman MacCaig, the famous Scottish poet, raised the question of land ownership in a ‘Man in Assynt’:

Who possesses this landscape?

The man who bought it or I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for this landscape is masterless and intractable

In any terms that are human.

I think this describes beautifully, the feeling that you get from being in the Scottish mountains. You certainly don’t need to own it to enjoy it!

The main parts of the Land Reform Act 2003 are:

    • – Everyone has the statutory right of access;


    • – Access rights apply to all land and inland waters, unless excluded (as below);


    • – Access rights are for outdoor recreation, for crossing land and water, and for some educational and commercial purposes; and


    • – Exercising access rights, and managing access land, must be done responsibly.

Where access rights do not apply

    • – Houses and gardens, and non-residential buildings and associated land;


    • – Land in which crops have been sown or are growing (although please note that the headrigs, endrigs and other margins of fields where crops are growing are not defined as crops, whether sown or unsown, and are therefore within access rights);


    • – Land next to a school and used by the school;


    • – Sports or playing fields when these are in use and where the exercise of access rights would interfere with such use;


    • – Land developed and in use for recreation and where the exercise of access rights would interfere with such use;


    • – Golf courses (but you can cross a golf course provided you don’t interfere with any games of golf);


    • – Places like airfields, railways, telecommunication sites, military bases and installations, working quarries and construction sites; and


    • – Visitor attractions or other places which charge for entry.

Which activities are excluded from access rights? Access rights don’t extend to:

    • – Being on or crossing land for the purpose of doing anything which is an offence, such as theft, breach of the peace, nuisance, poaching, allowing a dog to worry livestock, dropping litter, polluting water or disturbing certain wild birds, animals and plants;


    • – Hunting, shooting, fishing;


    • – Any form of motorised recreation or passage (except by people with a disability using a vehicle or vessel adapted for their use);


    • – Anyone responsible for a dog which is not under proper control; or


    • – Anyone taking away anything from the land for a commercial purpose.

Other related legislation supporting access to the countryside:

    • – Public rights of way continue to exist and are unaffected by the Act;


    • – Public rights on the foreshore and in tidal waters will continue to exist;


    • – Liability – the Act makes clear that the extent of the duty of care owed by a land manager is unaffected; and


    • – Access rights do not extend to criminal activity which is defined by various statutory offences.

Find out more about the Outdoor Access code before you head out to explore at www.outdooraccess-scotland.com