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Restrictions on Access Land

Details of the ways in which access to access land can be restricted, who is entitled to make those restrictions and how those restrictions are managed

Land affected by Countryside Rights of Way (CRoW) access rights

Approximately one fifth of Wales is classed as ‘access land’, where the public have a right of access on foot. However, sometimes special circumstances might restrict access to or across this access land. These restrictions usually exist for land management purposes and public safety.

Access land is shown on Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 Explorer maps and on Natural Resources Wales’s interactive maps.

Access land restrictions

There are different types of land restrictions, and they can vary in length. Some last only a short time, while others last longer. Longer term restrictions are usually made only after public consultation.

Although restrictions do not apply to Public Rights of Way such as public footpaths and bridleways, they can control how you interact with the land or what areas you might want to visit. For example, some of them might not allow dogs on the land, or they might require you to enter and leave the land at very specific points. Some restrictions can stop you visiting certain areas altogether.

However, other than restrictions on the Welsh Government Woodland Estate for the purpose of public safety, the number of access restrictions in Wales is very small.

Types of land restriction

Restrictions are used to balance the needs of walkers and land managers, ultimately to help ensure the safety of the public and the continuing enjoyment of the countryside for all. There are three major types of restriction:

Discretionary restrictions

Landowners and tenants wishing to restrict access for people with dogs to their land for lambing or on grouse moors can use a discretionary restriction.  They can also restrict the right of access to their land for up to 28 days a year (‘the 28 day option’).

Discretionary restrictions can be placed and removed at short notice, so it is important to check the latest information on this website whilst looking out for signs on the land.

The 28 day option

The 28 day option can be used across 28 days in any one calendar year. However, it can’t be imposed:

  • On Bank Holidays, Christmas Day or Good Friday
  • On more than four weekend days
  • On any Saturday between 1 June and 11 August
  • On any Sunday between 1 June and 30 September

Restrictions by direction (with an application)

Anyone with a legal interest in the land can apply to the relevant authority (Natural Resources Wales, Snowdonia National Park Authority, Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, or Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority) for restrictions by direction.

They can only be applied for if they are necessary for one or more of the following pressing purposes:

  • For reasons of land management
  • To avoid the risk of fire
  • To avoid danger to the public

Rights of appeal

If the application is refused, the applicant still has a right of appeal. However, the land’s access status remains unchanged while any appeal is ongoing.

Restrictions by direction (without an application)

Restrictions can also be imposed by a relevant authority without a request from someone with a legal interest in particular circumstances:

  • To avoid the risk of fire
  • To avoid danger to the public
  • For nature conservation or heritage preservation purposes

Directions and decisions explained

Direction

This is a legal document issued by the relevant authority when a restriction of access on open access land has been agreed.

Draft Direction

This document is sent to various partner organisations and registered people who have an interest in the land, consulting with them on whether or not a direction should be issued. Members of the public are also entitled to give their say. Restrictions that will last for more than six months will usually have a draft direction issued.

About Draft Directions

Before issuing a direction, from six months up to five years, the relevant authorities must produce a draft version, which is sent out for consultation to:

  • Local Access Forums
  • Farming Unions
  • Other partner organisations

When a relevant authority makes a decision not to give a direction, for whatever reason, they have to justify that reason. This is called a 'Decision not to give a direction'.

Who can impose restrictions?

  • ‘Relevant Authorities’ ie Natural Resources Wales and the National Park Authorities can place what’s called a ‘restriction by direction’
  • Landowners, tenants and those people with a legal interest in the land can contact one of these relevant authorities to either apply for a ‘restriction’ or give notice of a ‘discretionary restriction’
  • The Secretary of State for Defence and the Home Secretary can also impose restrictions where they believe these are necessary for defence or national security

Managing access to access land

The responsibility for managing access to and across access land, and dealing with obstructions, lies with the ‘Access Authorities’ as defined in the Act. These are the National Park Authorities within national parks and Natural Resources Wales on afforested land. All access land that is not afforested or within a national park is the responsibility of the local unitary authority. The responsibility for routes that are public rights of way lies with the relevant local unitary authority or national park authority. They are not affected by restrictions on access land.

Relevant Authorities

Relevant Authorities have a legal responsibility to administer exclusions and restrictions to open access land and dedicated woodland.

In Wales they are:

  • Natural Resources Wales
  • Snowdonia National Park Authority
  • Brecon Beacons National Park Authority
  • Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority

Registered interest

Landowners and tenants along with various other holders of sporting rights and graziers are all considered to have a 'registered interest' in CRoW access land and as such may have a legal say in any exclusions or restrictions to it.

The Countryside Access (Exclusions or Restriction of Access) (Wales) Regulations 2003

These are a set of rules issued by the Welsh Government that define how restrictions to open access land are implemented.

Guidance for CRoW Relevant Authorities

This statutory guidance under CRoW section 33 is issued by Natural Resources Wales to National Park Authorities on the discharge of their functions as ‘relevant authorities’ in relation to the restriction of these access rights in Wales.

The purpose of guidance

Natural England and Natural Resources Wales have collaborated on the formulation of this guidance to help facilitate uniformity of CRoW access management across England and Wales.

Welsh Government approval

The National Park Authorities and Natural Resources Wales are required by CRoW to have regard to this guidance, which has been approved by the Welsh Government. Natural Resources Wales discharges the same local exclusion and restriction functions in relation to CRoW access land that is not the responsibility of National Park Authorities. In discharging these functions, Natural Resources Wales will also have regard to this guidance.

Obtaining the guidance document

Consultation with relevant bodies and other interested parties took place in the process of compiling the guidance. This document has been supplied to the relevant authorities and is available in electronic form (a PDF file) from openaccessmapping@naturalresourceswales.gov.uk

Further information

For more information, contact:

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