Access Rights and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code
Scotland enjoys some of the best access rights in the world.
For an informal introduction to your access rights and the so-called 'right to roam',
Provided you are behaving responsibly our access rights cover all of these non-motorised recreational activities:
- Informal pastimes such as Walking and sightseeing
- Active pursuits including Cycling, Mountaineering, Watersports and Horse Riding
- Dog Walking, provided your dog is under proper control
- Taking part in educational trips
- Some commercial purposes (where the activities are the same as those done by the general public)
- Simply going from one place to another
Activities excluded from access rights include:
- Field Sports (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) e.g. ATV or dirt bikes
- Being on a golf course for recreation (although you are allowed to cross it)
In Scotland, you can go onto most land and water to enjoy the outdoors.
We don't have a right to go everywhere. People use and manage the land in many different ways and this isn't always compatible with public access, plus of course we are all entitled to privacy around our homes. So, some of the areas where your access rights do not apply include:
- Houses and gardens, and non-residential buildings and associated land
- Curtilages of buildings that are not houses (e.g. farmyards)
- In relation to a house, sufficient adjacent land to give residents reasonable measures of privacy and to ensure that their enjoyment of the house is not unreasonably disturbed. See Section 3.15 of the Scottish Outdoor Access Code (see section below)
- Private gardens in common ownership
- School grounds
- Sports or playing fields when these are in use and where the exercise of access rights would interfere with such use
- Land in which crops have been sown or are growing (but field margins can be accessed)
- Visitor attractions or other places that charge for entry.
- Golf courses (but you can cross a golf course provided you don't interfere with any games of golf)
- Places like airfields, railways, telecommunication sites, military bases and installations, working quarries and construction sites.
Scottish Outdoor Access Code
The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) provides guidance on the responsibilities of the public and landowners in taking and providing for access. The Code is a practical guide to part 1 of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, which gave the public rights of responsible access to most land and inland water in Scotland. The Act also clarified, for both access takers and land managers, where we can go and what we can do. SOAC applies to anyone who takes non-motorised access in the outdoors.
Please do enjoy West Lothian's countryside but 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
- The outdoors is a great place to enjoy but it is also a working environment where farming, forestry 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 could be a danger to others, and take care of yourself and your group. 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).
Respect the interests of 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 avoid causing alarm to people, especially at night, by keeping a reasonable distance from property and not causing disturbance. Be aware that you could meet different types of users when you are out and about. The Ranger Service Guide To Responsible Access In West Lothian has specific guidance on how to share space with, and be considerate of, different user groups, plus advice for encounters with dogs and horses.
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 damage historic places and avoid lighting fires. If using a disposable BBQ, make sure it is raised off the ground on a rock and kept well away from any vegetation that might ignite. In very dry conditions or where weather indicates high fire risk, fires and BBQs should be avoided altogether.
- Be aware of sensitive times of year for wildlife, such as bird nesting season when accidental disturbance (especially along waterways or in upland areas) could lead to nests failing or chicks being abandoned. Keep your dog on a short lead or under close control where needed, and don't let it chase or inadvertently disturb wildlife.
- Some places are more prone to damage from recreational activities and so you might need to take extra care. For sensitive natural habitats, such as riverbanks, loch shores, marshes, bogs, hill-tops and steep slopes, the key need is usually to prevent damage, such as erosion, as much as possible. Where possible, try to walk through the middle of muddy paths rather than widening them unnecessarily. If on a bike and going off-trail, especially in winter, avoid wet, boggy or soft ground and avoid churning up the surface.
West Lothian Council's duties
The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 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.
The Act states that land managers must not prevent or deter access by erecting signs, notices or by placing obstructions. Any disturbance to the surface of core paths or rights of way must also be reinstated within 14 days. Local authorities have powers under Section 14 of the Act to make landowners/ managers comply, but we would much rather work with land managers to help them manage responsible access and will only start legal proceedings as a last resort.
Problems with core paths, rights of way, irresponsible access or other access-related issues can be reported to West Lothian Council (WLC) via Core Paths and Rights of Way Issues. Access issues fall under the remit of the Parks & Woodlands team, and most will be investigated by the Ranger Service in the first instance.
Here are some examples of the kind of access issues we will advise on, and investigate if necessary:
- You encounter a 'private, keep out' sign on land to which access rights apply.
- A gate or stile is removed, or a new obstruction appears on your route.
- As a land manager you are experiencing problems or disturbance due to public access and you're unsure what your rights are.
The local authority (WLC) 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.) To apply for an exemption, or if you are unsure if you need a Section 11 exemption for your land management operations, please contact the Parks & Woodlands department at Beecraigs via email@example.com. Your request will be discussed and an application emailed to you if applicable. 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 Scottish Ministers for approval.
The local authority (WLC) 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.)
To apply for an exemption, or if you are unsure if you need a Section 11 exemption for your land management operations, please contact the Parks & Woodlands department at Beecraigs via firstname.lastname@example.org. Your request will be discussed and an application emailed to you if applicable.
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 Scottish Ministers for approval.
The following are not access issues and are therefore not reportable through the online form, or the remit of the Ranger Service. Some do however fall under the remit of other departments in West Lothian Council, and where applicable a link to those departments is provided:
- Roads, streets, pavements and parking issues - report to Report a Pothole or Other Road Issue
- Overgrown grass on public land - report to Report Overgrown Grass on Public Land
- Litter / flytipping on Council land - report to Report Litter or Report Illegal Fly Tipping
- Overflowing rubbish bins - report to Reporting Bin and Waste Issues
- Tree-related enquiries - report to Tree Related Issues and Enquiries
- Overgrown shrubs, hedges and bushes - report to Report Overgrown Shrubs, Bushes and Hedges
- Dog fouling - On public land you can report it to Dog Fouling
- Mapping of walking and cycling routes
- Walking and Cycling
- Ramblers Scotland
- Mountaineering Scotland
- Mountain Biking
- BHS Horse Riding
- Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (Scotways)
- Scottish Natural Heritage
- Paths for All
- John Muir Way
- National Farmers Union (Scotland)
- Forestry and Land Scotland (formerly Forestry Commission)