The Right To Roam In Scotland For Hikers
If you’re interested in knowing more about the right to roam in Scotland then hopefully by the time you’ve read this article you’ll have more of a clear idea of what rights you have.
It’s quite common for people, especially visitors, to see that Scotland has a ‘right to roam’ access code but not be entirely sure clear what this means exactly. When it first came to light I was the same, not entirely sure what my rights actually are. Let’s be honest, it seems too good to be true (and slightly bizarre) that you can just roam freely through the country carefree and wild.
The Land Reform Act in Scotland is a fundamental part of the Outdoor Access Code which basically states that you can go anywhere in Scotland, at any time, and do whatever you want.
Well…not quite. But almost.
It’s an act in Scotland which is based on certain principles and was made in order to encourage people to explore more of Scotland’s beautiful countryside without fear of ‘trespassing’ on other people’s land or roaming into areas where you may not necessarily be allowed.
As you might have expected, the Outdoor Access Code has a huge long summary which addresses what exactly you can and cannot do, and under what conditions. This can be a bit of a bore to read and is written in ‘legal language’ which isn’t everybody’s favourite to read. I’m going to try to briefly break it down for you here by highlighting the key points so that, by the end of it, you have a much better idea of where you stand.
Before reading on, it’s worth noting that all the points covered in this article are based on the 3 following principles. These are quoted from the Scottish Outdoor Access Code:
- Respect the interests of other people.
- Care for the environment.
- Take responsibility for your own actions.
Can You Go Wherever You Want?
In short, no.
The access code doesn’t give you the right to take your dogs for a walk through the back gardens of the next street. It doesn’t give you the right to walk through a field full of sheep with your hunting dog.
Common sense, right?
The great thing about the access code is that a lot of the points are a simple case of applying common sense. Would anybody in their right mind do the 2 things listed above? I would hope not.
Being a hiker you don’t have to worry about whose land you are on or whether you are permitted to hike/trek in that area. If there is a footpath you can take it as long as you act responsibly wherever you go and you’re not in somebody’s back garden. The landowner has no right to kick you off his/her land unless, of course, it’s their enclosed private property such as a garden or yard.
Can You Take Your Dog Wherever You Want?
This does come with some conditions, though. The dog must be kept under control at all times, whether you decide to let it off the lead is entirely up to you. Common sense applies here when it comes to farm animals. If you’re passing through an area with livestock, keep your dog on a lead and make sure they don’t worry or attack the animals. Cows, for the most part, in Scotland are pretty docile creatures but in the unlikely event that they become worried or aggressive because of your dog, it’s essential that you main calm and find the quickest exit point briskly but not running.
Remember, if your dog attacks livestock then the farmer/landowner has the right to shoot it or report you to the police. If found guilty the dog will almost certainly be put to sleep.
If your dog decides to defecate in a public place, it’s your responsibility to clean it up. Lots of parks have dog waste bins. If you’re hiking in the Scottish wilderness then you don’t need to worry about this.
One final point is that it’s important to keep your dog from disturbing ground-nesting birds and from ruining crops. Most of these points are common sense and self-explanatory. Remember, your dog can go wherever you go but it’s 100% your responsibility. Bird nesting time tends to be from April – July.
Can You Walk Through Any Field?
Legally, there is nothing stopping you from walking through a field full of sheep and cattle. It is recommended that you look for appropriate alternatives or take a slightly longer route in order to avoid disturbing livestock but if there’s no other route then you may go through the field at your own risk. Be especially cautious if there are young animals such as lambs and calves.
If you enter the field with the intention of disturbing livestock then this is where it becomes illegal.
It is your responsibility to leave everything as you find it, this includes closing gates behind you and cleaning up dog faeces in a field occupied by farm animals.
If you notice that the field has recently been ploughed, harvested or fertilised then you must treat it the same as if it were to have crops. Don’t walk directly through or ruin the treated area by sticking to the fence line or any clear paths.
What About Shooting Season?
The access rights still apply but at your own risk.
Deer stalking season varies by species but can range from July until February. When taking to the hills make sure that you keep an eye out for signs or warnings that stalking may be taking place. This doesn’t mean that you can’t follow your desired route but just that you must exercise a higher degree of caution. Generally, it’s not recommended taking your dog into an area where there’s likely to be stalking. This applies not just for deer, but also grouse and low ground shooting.
It’s also important to bear in mind that most gamekeepers will avoid areas likely to be used for recreational use such as footpaths and popular hiking spots.
As you probably realised, the access rights don’t apply here but there are a couple of notable exceptions.
If the path you are following passes straight through a farmyard, you can keep going. If the path doesn’t cut through the farmyard and comes to a dead end then you shouldn’t take it. You should keep a look out for right of way signs.
Remember, it’s not uncommon to accidentally end up in a farmyard or the extended garden of some massive houses by accident. It’s happened to me occasionally. In 99% of cases, the owner will be more than happy to redirect you and help you out.
If you’re hiking in the Scottish wilderness then in the summer you may want to do some wild camping. Wild camping is when you pitch your tent as you go, not paying to camp in a specific campsite.
In short, you can wild camp anywhere within the access code. You should obviously apply common sense and not camp in fields with crops or livestock.
An exception to the above is in the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. There are now certain areas of the park where wild camping isn’t permitted and you must stick to campsites or possess a special permit. Click on this link for more details.
Specifically quoting the access code it states that you leave no trace of camping by:
- removing all your litter.
- removing all traces of your tent pitch and of any open fire.
- not causing any pollution.
Camping in the Scottish wilderness gives an amazing feeling of freedom and it’s also very safe because you don’t have to worry about any big beasts like in the US and Canada.
When nature calls, it’s again important to apply common sense. Urinate in a relatively hidden place well away from any open water or streams. Make sure that faeces is well buried in a hole in the ground.
There is absolutely no problem picking berries and other wild foods while on the trail. It only becomes a problem if you take the food from somebody’s land with the intention of making a profit.
A Couple More Important Points
The access code does not apply to motorised vehicles. You must abide by signs or directions when taking your vehicle out into the country. Use a car park wherever possible and if there is no car park try to cause as little damage as possible to the verge and don’t block any driveway/access points. Certain protected areas in Scotland such as Glen Strathfarrar allow only a certain amount of cars in at any one time.
The access code also applies to picnicking. It’s again a case of applying common sense and standard personal hygiene. Don’t picnic in areas with farm animals or where pesticides have recently been sprayed.
If you plan on lighting a fire, make sure it’s small and always under control. Avoid lighting a fire near buildings or in forested areas. It’s always recommended using a stove when possible.
I hope that this post has given you a clear understanding of the right to roam in Scotland but if you do want to read the entire Access Code then you can do so here.
As always, thanks a lot for reading and please leave anything you wish to add or any questions in the comments box below. 🙂