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Access to open countryside: Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000


People have been campaigning for more open access to the countryside for well over 100 years. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) has been introduced in direct response to this, to create new recreational opportunities for all.

The CROW Act creates a new right of access to some of the finest countryside in England.

From 31 October 2005 members of the public are able to walk across large areas of land across the whole of England.

  • If you are a member of the public planning to use the new right of access and would like to find out what land is open for access under the CROW Act, or any other arrangements, or whether land is covered by a restriction or exclusion, then visit the Countryside Agency's website, www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk for further details.
  • If you own or manage land and would like to check whether it is covered by the CROW Act, or would like to find out further details about the restrictions system, then visit www.openaccess.gov.uk. You can order a land managers' guidance pack, which contains useful information about the CROW Act by telephoning the Open Access Contact Centre on 0845 100 3298.

  • For information about the Countryside Code see www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk.

  • Further information about the new right of access in Wales can be found on the Countryside Council for Wales' website at www.ccw.gov.uk.

What does the new right cover?


The right of access, which is for recreation on foot, includes activities like walking, sightseeing, bird watching, picnicking, climbing and running.

To make sure the privacy of people who live and work on land covered by the right of access is protected, land that it is used for some specified purposes, for instance as a garden, park, cultivated land, or land covered by buildings will not be included in the right of access. Land used for these, and other purposes, is known as "excepted land" and the right of access does not apply to it.

There is also a series of general restrictions which place limits on activities which can be carried out under the new right. High impact activities, like cycling, fishing, horse riding camping or driving a vehicle are not permitted under the CROW Act. However the right of access will not prevent people carrying out these activities if they already take place with the permission of the landowner or if they are covered by other legislation.

Access to land covered by the new right can also be restricted in some circumstances. Landowners can restrict or exclude the public from the land that they own for up to 28 days each year for any reason and there is a separate system that landowners, and anyone else with a legal interest in the land, can use to apply for restrictions where this is necessary for land management, fire prevention, or public safety.

Special requirements also exist to control dogs on land covered by the CROW Act. There is a general requirement for dogs to be kept on a short fixed lead of no more than two metres in length between 1 March and 31 July, and at any time in the vicinity of livestock. Landowners also have powers to restrict people with dogs from small enclosures for lambing, and across grouse moors. Owners (and others with a legal interest) can also apply to restrict or exclude access on land management or public safety grounds in some circumstances too.

When will the new right start?

The right of access came into effect across the whole of England on Monday 31 October 2005.
In Wales, the CROW Act is being implemented by the National Assembly for Wales. The new right started there in one go in May 2005.

Lessons Learned Reviews - Implementation of the new right of access to open country and registered common land under the Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act 2000

Learning lessons from policy development and implementation is now established as one of the principles of modern policymaking. As the Government department with policy responsibility for implementing the new right of access and achieving the associated Public Service Agreement target, Defra has overseen the management of a programme covering a series of projects and work streams.

Reports have been prepared by both Defra and the Countryside Agency, detailing lessons learnt from the implementation of the new right of access under the CROW Act.

Our review focussed on the department’s programme management role in implementing the right of access to open country (Part I of the Act) and the establishment of local access forums (Part V), together with the delivery of the activities and products required to ensure successful implementation for which Defra was directly responsible.

The full report is available to download. [Click to download Adobe Acrobat Reader] [122KB]

The Countryside Agency’s review focussed on the mapping and mapping appeals processes. The Agency was tasked under section 4(1) of the Act to prepare maps of England which showed all registered common land and open country. The Agency also had a significant role in mapping appeals.

The Countryside Agency’s full report [Click to download Adobe Acrobat Reader] is available to download.

Further information

The following pages contain information on various sets of regulations or guidance issued by Defra under the CROW Act.

Page last modified: 20 June 2007
Page published: 17 September 2004

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs