Natural England - Access: our legal role

Access: our legal role

Natural England has an over-arching statutory duty to promote access to the countryside and more specific statutory responsibilities in relation to Open Access Land, National Trails and access to the coast.

Open Access Land - England has approximately 865,000 hectares of Open Access Land (mountain, moor, heath, and down) and common land on which people can walk, ramble, run, explore, climb and watch wildlife without having to stay on rights of way. In some situations this access needs to be formally restricted in order to balance enjoyment with nature conservation and land management interests. Natural England is the main authority responsible for administrating this restriction system.

Coastal Access - Work has started on the England Coast Path, a new National Trail around all of England's open coast. For the first time people will have the right of access around all of England’s open coast, including – where appropriate – ‘spreading room’ along the way where they can rest, relax or admire the view.

Rights of way are legally highways that anyone may use at any time. They can be wide tracks or narrow trails, and they can run through towns or across remote countryside. Although you can walk on all of them, some have extra rights to ride a horse, cycle or drive a vehicle. The responsibility for recording and maintaining rights of way is shared between local authorities, landowners and occupiers. Natural England has no specific legal role in relation to rights of way, but we advise national and local government on the rights of way network as part of our over-arching duty to promote public access to the countryside.

Local Access Forums improve access at a local level and resolve problems by advising highway authorities and other local organisations, such as National Park Authorities. They are supported by Natural England.

National Trails are a family of the highest quality public routes for extensive off road journeys connecting our finest landscapes. Between them the thirteen National Trails in England provide over 3,500 km of path. All of the National Trails can be completed on foot and several can also be used by horse riders and cyclists. Natural England has statutory powers to propose new National Trails, and changes to existing routes, for approval by the Secretary of State. We also play an important part in the funding arrangements and standards for existing National Trails. See more about National Trails.

For details of access to land as part of agri-environment schemes, see Walks and Ridesexternal link.