Keep Ireland Open



The situation in other countries

Most European countries have some form of developed legal access to the countryside.

The right to roam (based on respect for the countryside) has survived in its purest form in Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, giving the opportunity to hike across or camp on another’s land. This includes complete right of access to beaches, foreshore, dunes and cliffs. With these rights come responsibilities – an obligation not to harm, disturb, litter nor damage wildlife or crops.

The right of access to private land legislation in Sweden is something unique. Nowhere else in the world can you move about in the countryside as freely as in Sweden.

“Enshrined in Sweden’s constitution and enjoyed by everyone who feels like it, the right of public access (‘Allemansrätt’ in Swedish – Everyman’s Right) gives you the right to roam the countryside in Sweden in perfect peace and quiet without someone saying: “get off my land”, unless you clomp all over someone’s back garden or trample all over a farmer’s cultivated field that is.

‘The freedom to roam’, ‘the right of public access’, ‘the right to roam’. There are many ways of expressing this right, and it basically means you have the right to walk, cycle, ride, ski and camp on any land with the exception of private gardens, in the immediate vicinity of a dwelling house or land under cultivation.

Of course, this right comes with a responsibility to look after the countryside and you should not disturb or destroy the environment around you.”

( Sweden’s official website for travel and tourism)

Scotland has long had a tradition of access to most land and the Land Reform Act 2003 confirmed this. Walkers have a statutory right of responsible access to all land (similar to Scandinavia) except obviously railway lands, airfields, harbours, quarries, standing crops, gardens, the immediate vicinity of private homes etc. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code gives detailed guidance on exercising responsible access.
England and Wales
England and Wales have over 225,000km of off-road routes classed as Public Rights of Way, along with numerous other paths – bridle ways, towpaths and disused railways. The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 (CROW) gave walkers right of access to most areas of uncultivated land, about 1.4 million hectares of open country – mountain, moor, heath, down and common, along with National Parks. The CROW Act was bitterly opposed in advance but since implementation there has been barely a murmur of dissent. Furthermore, the Marine and Coastal Access Bill was passed in November 2009 and will establish a coastal route around England’s 4,345km coast along with a permanent right of access. The creation of the coastal path is expected to take up to ten years and cost about £50 million. When finished it will link with the Welsh Coastal Path, expected to be completed in 2012.

“Everyone in Norway has a right of access to the countryside, originally a traditional right but now set out in the legislation governing the right of access. It is important to remember that this right is based on respect for the countryside and that visitors must always show consideration for farmers and landowners, other users and the environment.
In practice the right of access means:
* You may go anywhere in open country (“unfenced land”) on foot or on skis and picnic wherever you want. Open country is land that is not cultivated. In Norway, the term covers most shores, bogs, forests and mountains…
* You may put up a tent, or sleep under the stars, for the night anywhere in the countryside, forests or mountains, except in cultivated fields and lay-bys. However, you must keep at least 150 metres away from the nearest house or cabin. If you want to stay for more than two nights in the same place, you must ask the landowner’s permission, except in the mountains or very remote areas…”
( the official travel guide to Norway)

44,000km of marked trails, a right to roam in forested areas and in some mountain areas. In others landowners reserve the right to deny access, although, because of the importance of mountain tourism, this is rarely exercised.

Local rambler groups maintain 200,000km of marked trails (so there may be others). ‘Betretungsrecht’ the traditional right to free access, covers forests, open land and foreshore, and along footpaths and roads, but not to enclosed farmland. It has been given a modern statutory basis.

Spain is in the process of revising its laws on access. At present there is a general legal right to access mountain areas, the coast and other high amenity areas. There are over 100,000kms of maintained pathways. The Canaries, the Pyrenees and other major mountain areas all have well-developed networks of pathways. There is a right of access to river and canal banks. There is an ambitious plan to link the entire country by a network of paths/cycle ways made up of historic pathways, bridleways, drovers’ roads, disused railways, old roadways and towpaths. For example, the GR 99, El Camino Natural del Ebro is a recently opened 1,280km way-marked path along the entire route of the Ebro.

An extensive network of footpaths covers the entire country – over 58,000km of long-distance paths and 120,000km of local footpaths. Foreshores and beaches are in public ownership and a 3metre strip along the coast is open to walkers, along with the right to access this strip.

“The age-old concept of Everyman’s right gives everyone the basic right to roam freely in the countryside without needing to obtain permission no matter who owns or occupies the land… Everyman’s right does not, however, cover activities which damage the environment or disturb other… Everyone is basically entitled to walk, ski, cycle or ride freely in the countryside as long as this causes no harm to property or nature. This right is limited in cultivated fields and plantations and around people’s homes.” – from “Everyman’s Right in Finland”, Finnish Ministry of the Environment 2007. ( )

In Ireland you have virtually no legal right to step onto private land, no matter how remote.
There are scarcely any rights of way, apart from the obvious, for example public roads and urban parks.
This is why, in stark contrast to other European countries, casual walkers are often confined to tarmac or have to struggle on intermittent paths through countryside where no infrastructure (stiles etc) has been provided or worse, where they can be turned back by a landowner for no reason.