Ponies grazing on heathland

Open access

What is Open Access?

Open access means that you have a right of access to an area of ‘access land’. You do not have to stay on linear routes and paths unless you want to.

Access land is shown on the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps and on Natural England's website. It comprises open country, registered commons, dedicated access land and ‘other’ access land.

Open country is the areas of mountain, moor, heath and down that were given new access rights under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000.

Some land already had public access rights before the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. For example, in the New Forest the public have been able to walk and ride horses across the Crown lands for many years.

What can I do on access land?

You can walk freely on all types of access land. Within the New Forest there are many streams and areas of bog and mire, so you should take care if you are walking in an unfamiliar area.

You can also enjoy other informal activities such as watching birds and wildlife, picnicking, photography and running. Some things are not permitted, such as camping, lighting fires, swimming, fishing, metal detecting or taking anything from the land. Cycling is welcomed on certain types of track.

Within the New Forest, horse-riding is welcomed on much of the access land.

Dog walkers are especially well catered for in the New Forest. When on open country dogs must be on a fixed lead of no more than two metres at all times when near livestock, and during the bird nesting season which is between 1 March and 31 July.

Whenever you are out in the countryside, you should act responsibly and please follow the Countryside Code.

Can access be restricted?

Yes, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 allows for certain restrictions to be placed on access land.

Some areas are exempt from access rights. These include land within 20 metres of a dwelling, arable land, active quarries or land-fill sites and railway lines.

Restrictions may also be in place which either prevent access or place conditions on the access allowed. Details of any current restrictions, and of how to apply for a restriction to access, can be found on the Natural England website.

  1. Access
  2. Countryside Access
  3. Open access (you are here)
  4. Tame your wild side


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