What is the Countryside Rights of Way (CROW) Act?

In a nutshell

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act (CROW) 2000 gives us the right of access, on foot, to land mapped as 'open country' - mountain, moor, heath and down, or registered common land.

On this land we may walk, run, climb, bird-watch and sightsee, all while adhering to The Countryside Code and the motto Respect - Protect - Enjoy.

The CROW Act is a start, but it still only gives us access to 11% of England and Wales without fear of trespassing. BMC staff work hard not only to maintain access to footpaths and crags at present but also to lobby for more extensive access legislation. Find out more and get involved with our latest access campaign here. Donate to help the BMC continue this vital work here.

Scroll down for info on how to recognise open access land on the map and in real life, what you can and can't do on it, temporary or permanent restrictions, a history of the CROW Act and the BMC's involvement with it, and the locations of our eight BMC-owned sites.

How is CROW access land displayed on Ordnance Survey maps?

Access land is clearly displayed on the 1:25,000 series Explorer Maps as a yellow tint surrounded by a narrow orange border. The 1:50,000 Landranger Maps do not show access land, nor do Harvey Maps.

This yellow colouring is also used to denote access land under other agreements, e.g. land owned by the National Trust, Forestry Commission, Woodland Trust and National Park Authorities. This has replaced the previous marking of a thin purple line surrounding access land.

Access information points are shown by a circular orange 'i' symbol and boundaries of National Parks now appear as a purple dashed line.

For the current government information on countryside access and restrictions, including on-line maps, click here.

Yellow tinted land with an orange boarder shows access land on OS 1:25,000 scale maps

How is CROW access land indicated in the outdoors?

The brown, walking person symbol in a circle is used to indicate the start of access land. You not see one of these signs at every entry point so you need to refer to the map to be sure you are entering access land. You are allowed to climb carefully over walls or fences to get into, out of or across open access land, as long as you don’t damage them. Conversely, a cross through this sign indicates the end of the access land area.

This small, brown symbol of a person walking indicates access land

On access land you are free to do the following things:

  • walk
  • sightsee
  • bird-watch
  • climb
  • run

On access land we are not permitted to do the following things:

  • ride a horse or bicycle

  • drive a vehicle (except mobility scooters and powered wheelchairs)

  • bring an animal, other than a dog

  • camp

  • play organised games

  • hang-glide or paraglide

  • use a metal detector

  • run commercial activities on the land such as:

    • trade or sell
    • charge other visitors for things they do on your land
    • film, photograph or make maps
  • remove, damage, or destroy any plant, shrub, tree or root with intent

  • light, cause or risk a fire

  • damage hedges, fences, walls, crops or anything else on the land

  • leave gates open, that are not propped or fastened open

  • leave litter

  • disturb livestock, wildlife or habitats with intent

  • post any notices

  • commit any criminal offence

When we use access land, and any outdoor spaces, we need to adhere to The Countryside Code in order to follow their motto "Respect - Protect - Enjoy".

These are:

  • Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
  • Keep dogs under close control
  • Consider other people

More information:
The Countryside Code (gov.uk)

Y Cod Cefn Gwlad

A variety of restrictions and exclusions may be applied to CROW access land for varying periods of time. Landowners and occupiers have the discretion to suspend or restrict the new access rights for 28 days each year, for any reason. They may also apply for long-term closures, where necessary for land management, safety or fire prevention reasons.

Restrictions are where a limit is placed on the right of access under the CROW Act, eg. excluding dogs or allowing access only along a designated linear route. An exclusion means that the statutory right of access is removed completely for the period concerned. It is important to note that that these restrictions cannot be applied to public rights of way or land that is not open access land under the CROW Act.

These restrictions may be applied for the reasons listed below, prompted by the land owner or tenant, the relevant authority or the Secretary of State. The relevant authority is the National Park Authority for land within a National Park or the Forestry Commission for dedicated woodland. On other sorts of land the Countryside Agency in England and the Countryside Council for Wales in Wales are the relevant authorities.

The BMC (and other organisations) and any relevant Local Access Forum must be consulted on any proposed long-term restrictions, that is those lasting six months or more. Restrictions notices should be placed on entry points to CROW access land by the land manager where they have applied for a restriction or by the local access authority (National Park Authority or highway authority) where no application has been made. It is an offence under the CROW Act to place false or misleading signs.

28 Day Discretionary Restrictions (CROW Act Section 22)
Land owners or farm tenants may restrict the access under CRoW for any reason for up to 28 days per year. These 28 days may not be Christmas Day, Good Friday, Bank Holidays or
more than four Saturdays or Sundays in total,
any Saturday in the period starting 1st June to 11th August,
any Sunday in the period starting 1st June to 30th September.

Discretionary Restrictions for Grouse Moors and Lambing Enclosures (Section 23)
Land owners or farm tenants may also restrict the right of access so that you may not take dogs with you:-
onto moors managed for breeding and shooting grouse (for up to five years),
or into fields or enclosures of not more than 15 hectares used for lambing (for not more than six weeks in any calendar year).
These do not apply to guide dogs for blind persons or hearing dogs for deaf persons.

Restrictions for Land Management (Section 24)
Anyone with a legal interest (eg. owners, commoners, tenants, those holding 'sporting' rights) on CROW access land may apply to the relevant authority for a restriction if it is necessary for management of the land. The relevant authority will then decide whether to grant the restriction or exclusion.

Restrictions for Public Safety (Section 25)
Anyone with a legal interest may apply to restrict access to CROW access land for reasons of danger to the public. The relevant authority will then decide whether to grant the restriction or exclusion. Relevant authorities may themselves make such restrictions without receiving an application from a land owner, but this is unlikely except in extreme circumstances.

Restrictions for Fire Risk (Section 25)
Anyone with a legal interest may apply to restrict access to CROW access land for reasons of risk of fire. The relevant authority may also make such restrictions - the decision in these cases is based on a fire risk model developed by the relevant authorities and the Met Office.

Restrictions for Nature Conservation and Heritage Preservation
(Section 26)
A relevant authority may restrict or exclude access to conserve important flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features or to preserve scheduled Ancient Monuments and other heritage sites. The relevant authorities will seek advice from English Nature, English Heritage or Countryside Council for Wales as appropriate.

Restrictions for Defence or National Security (Section 28)
The Secretary of State may restrict or exclude access to CROW access land for the purposes of defence or national security.

Excepted land refers to areas that we don't have access to even if they appear as or within open access land on the map. This includes very obvious cases such as golf courses, aerodromes, racecourses or quarries. It may also be temporary due to recent ploughing, or too small to be market separately on a map. Local signs will very often indicate where these areas are.

Excepted land includes the following:

  • buildings and their curtilage, such as courtyards
  • land within 20 metres of a dwelling or building containing livestock
  • parks and gardens
  • land covered by structures like electricity substations, wind turbines or telephone masts (though this does not prevent use of access land around them)
  • quarries and other active mineral workings
  • railways and tramways
  • golf courses and race courses
  • aerodromes
  • land being lawfully developed in one of the ways above
  • land ploughed for the growing of crops or trees within the past year
  • temporary livestock pens
  • racehorse training gallops – at certain times
  • land under Ministry of Defence byelaws, such as most military training areas

Section 16 of the CROW Act, allows private landowners to dedicate their land. Dedication gives the public the same statutory right of access for open-air recreation on foot as other CROW land. When dedicated land becomes access land (6 months after the dedication agreement has been signed) it is shown on OS 1:25,000 scale maps in yellow as access land.

The BMC owns eight areas of land that are not mapped as 'open country' so as to secure access for climbing forever. This is known as BMC dedicated land and it means these areas have the same rights of access as other CROW land - walking, running, climbing, bird-watching and sightseeing. It also allows the BMC as landowners to benefit from both reduced liability under occupiers' liability legislation, and from the restrictions regime applying to all access land.

Where are the sites?
The BMC has dedicated eight climbing sites in England and Wales. See all our BMC-owned sites here.

**Case study: Horseshoe Quarry**
Horseshoe Quarry, also known as Furness Quarry, is an extensive disused limestone quarry in Stoney Middleton in the Peak District National Park. It has been climbed on for many years, and an area of 8.5ha of the site was acquired by the BMC in 2005. The site has a complex patchwork of ownerships, with the BMC owning a large part of the quarry that has now been dedicated. It lies within Stoney Middleton Dale Site of Special Scientific Interest. There is no CROW open access land in the immediate vicinity of the site and prior to the purchase of the area by the BMC in 2005 access was prohibited although climbing did occur. A public footpath exists around the edge of the site and parking is provided in a small car park adjacent to the site. The opportunity now exists for climbers, walkers and cavers to fully explore the area in perpetuity. A local management group has been created to oversee the care of the site and to discuss and manage local botanical and ecological interests.

The local authorities involved, as well as Natural England, are all supportive of this initiative and our aim is to ensure that the botanical and ecological interests of the site are enhanced through progressive management initiatives and continued communication with the appropriate organisations.

The CROW Act 2000 was a significant relaxation of the rules that used to prevent access to the countryside. It still remains a major victory for organisations such as the BMC who have been campaigning for over a century for the right to roam.

The right of access came into effect across the whole of England on 31 Oct 2005. Now 865,000 hectares are classed as 'open access'. The rights of access were phased in on a region-by-region basis. In Wales, the National Assembly is implementing the CROW Act, which came into force 28 May 2005.

The Countryside Rights of Way (CROW) Act covers England and Wales. This is the history of the BMC involvement with this historic piece of legislation.

When Labour came to power in 1997, better access to the countryside was a manifesto commitment. It had also been a Ramblers' Association campaign for decades. With the consultation in full swing, the BMC Access & Conservation Committee had to make a decision - do we support the Bill as it was then or oppose it? We decided that being on board the process gave the BMC greater influence over an event that was clearly going to happen anyway.

This meant the BMC was able to:

  • ensure climbing was not excluded from the new statutory right of access
  • fight off the threat of a ridiculous night-time curfew on access by vigorous lobbying
  • work with landowners' representatives so that occupier's liability with respect to natural land features (often an issue with access to cliffs) on access land was reduced

We continue to work with the relevant government bodies to:

  • ensure that 'informal access management', such as BMC agreed restrictions to protect nesting birds and other agreements with landowners, continue to be used in preference to statutory restrictions
  • ensure interpretation of 'activities undertaken for commercial purposes' (these fall outside the new statutory rights of access) does not harm the interest of those educating and training others in the mountains
  • make publicity materials about access as positive as possible
  • push for the CROW Act right of access to be extended to include coastal land
  • work constructively with these agencies to promote climbers' and hill walkers' needs from the 'inside'

While broadly supporting the progress of the CROW Act, in no way does the BMC Access & Conservation team see it as a perfect, finished article. It has been suggested that the right of access under the Act is an 'empty' one as we were free to go to most of these places anyway. The benefit is that this freedom is now backed up by statute and cannot be taken away from us arbitrarily.

Once made, the Act has to be implemented - again the BMC are not suggesting this process has been an unalloyed success. As an example, the mapping process has taken a lot of effort and expense, and has not been well-suited to including crags as mapped open country. It can be argued that this money could have been better spent on access in other ways, although it is debatable whether the money would have found its way to access for recreation in the first place. Where mistakes have been made we will push for these to be remedied as a priority.

The CROW Act has involved the BMC in a lot of work - the Act exists and it is right to seek to get the most out of it for our members. In doing so we haven't lost sight of the importance of promoting our customary freedom of access to many, many places where CROW will not have an effect - at this time the access officers and volunteers have around 20 active negotiations going on with landowners to improve access for climbing. While not perfect, the CROW Act should encourage a shift in attitude from land ownership to land stewardship, and we must continue to promote this idea, promote the health benefits of being active outdoors and promote our human right to enjoy our mountains, hillsides and crags.

Full CROW Act 2000