Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 & the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Enjoying Scotland's outdoors responsibly

Scottish Outdoor Access Code banner

Part One of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 gives the public rights of responsible access to most land and inland water in Scotland for recreation, education and going from place to place.  The Act clarifies, for both access takers and land managers, where you can go and what you can do.  It applies to anyone who takes non-motorised access and includes walkers, cyclists, horse riders, canoeists, etc. 

There are plenty of places that access rights do apply to:-

The areas where your access rights do not exist include:-

  • buildings or other structures
  • curtilages of buildings that are not houses (e.g. farmyards)
  • in relation to a house, sufficient adjacent land to enable persons living there to have reasonable measures of privacy in the house to ensure that their enjoyment of the house is not unreasonably disturbed
  • private gardens in common ownership
  • land next to schools
  • land developed or set out as a sports or playing field or for a particular recreational purpose
  • land in which crops have been sown or are growing (but field margins can be accessed)
  • land excluded by virtue of past entry by payment.

Activities excluded include:-

  • hunting, shooting and fishing
  • being on land when responsible for a dog or other animal not under proper control
  • taking things away from the land for commercial purposes or for profit
  • motorised activities (unless for disabled access)
  • being on a golf course for recreation (although you are allowed to cross it).

Scotland enjoys some of the best access rights in the world and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) gives advice and guidance to users and land managers on their respective responsibilities while carrying out activities in the outdoors.  The code defines the responsibilities of the public and landowners in taking and providing for access for walking, cycling, horse riding and other non-motorised activities.

How to follow the Code:

  • Take responsibility for your own actions

The outdoors is a great place to enjoy but it is also a working environment where FarmingForestry Operations and other land management may be taking place, and where there are natural hazards to consider.  Make sure you are aware of these, do not do anything that be a danger to others and take care of yourself and your group.  Dog walkers must keep their dogs under close control at all times, avoid fields with livestock in them and remove your dog waste.  Plan your visit taking account of the weather forecast, parking location, best route to suit your needs, ground conditions, etc.   Do not litter (do take all your litter back with you) and avoid lighting fires.

  • Respect the interests of and uses by others

Respect the needs of other people enjoying or working in the outdoors and follow any reasonable advice such as signage and diversions, from land managers.  Respect people's privacy and peace of mind.  Avoid causing alarm to people, especially at night, by keeping a reasonable distance from Property or by following paths or tracks.  Non-motorised vehicles have the right of responsible access so be aware that you could meet different types of users when you are out and about.  Horses also have right of responsible access and riders are encouraged to kick dung off paths.  Horse riders and cyclists are also asked to ride slowly near other users, say "Hello" or ring your bell to let people know you are approaching them.

  • Care for the environment

Our environment contributes greatly to everyone's health and quality of life so treat it with care.  Take your rubbish home and consider picking up other litter as well.  Do not disturb or damage wildlife or historic places.  Keep your dog on a short lead or under close control where needed.

Getting out and about:

There is lots of guidance out there for specific activities so look out for good practice advice for whatever outdoor adventure you are planning.  Responsible access can be enjoyed over most of Scotland and, as long as you are acting responsibly, access rights cover all of these activities.

The Act also puts a duty on the Council to uphold access rights and gives the Council the powers to do this.  It is important that everyone understands their rights and responsibilities under the Act. 

Prohibition signs, obstructions, ploughing, etc.  The Act states that land managers must not prevent or deter access by erecting signs, notices or fences.  Any disturbance to the surface of core paths or rights of way must also be reinstated.  Local authorities have the power to remove or make safe such notices and reinstate paths. 

Exemption orders The local authority has powers to temporarily close paths and land from access rights for a period of up to six days under Section 11 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.  These closures are called Exemption Orders.  Applications can be submitted to exempt land from access rights for short periods up to five days for the purpose of holding fetes/shows, outdoor events, public safety, etc.  Not all such events require an exemption order; if the event/activity is not likely to obstruct the access route or a diversion can be provided with minimal inconvenience, then an exemption order may not be required.  Land may also be exempt for between six days and two years but these applications must follow a formal consultation procedure and the application is referred to Ministers for approval. 

Enjoy West Lothian's countryside but please know the Code before you go!

Whether you are using the outdoors or managing the outdoors, the three key principles are:-

  • Take responsibility for your own actions
  • Respect the interests of other people
  • Care for the environment

Useful contacts:- Outdoor Access Scotland (information on many topics including car parking, disabled access, farm animals and specific recreational activities)

Walking & Cycling