With travel around Scotland now eased and doubts around overseas holidays, it looks like another summer of staycations is on the horizon for many Scots.

With social distancing rules potentially requiring campsites to operate at reduced capacity, and demand for Scottish holidays being extremely high, it is likely that we will see a rise in people exploring and wild camping on rural land. For these reasons, it is key that rural businesses and landowners are aware of their rights and obligations in relation to access rights.

Public access rights

In Scotland, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 affords the public a general right to responsible access to most of Scotland's land and inland waters; this includes the right to camp. Landowners must not purposefully or unreasonably prevent, hinder, or deter people from exercising those rights. This means not putting up a fence or wall to physically obstruct people from accessing the land, or installing a sign or notice to discourage or intimidate them.

However, there are ways of managing access to land which could provide more control over where the public are walking or setting up camp. Paths and tracks are a good way of providing routes and outlining preferred areas for the public to access - and most people prefer to use paths rather than go across fields. It also gives landowners a better idea of which parts of their land people are likely to be on.

Restricting access

There are circumstances where the exercise of access rights by the public can be restricted. Landowners can restrict or deter access when the exercise of public access rights could be problematic or dangerous. For example, when harvesting crops or carrying out forestry operations. The Outdoor Access Code provides further advice as to which actions may merit restricting or deterring access to land.

It is also vital that when the public are exercising their rights, they do so responsibly. There have been numerous recent reports of "dirty camping", with landowners and residents of popular beauty spots being faced with litter and wildfires, which pose threats to local wildlife.

If individuals do not use their access rights responsibly, it may be possible to restrict access. If anti-social behaviour is a concern, landowners can work with their local authorities to discuss restricting access to the public.

Local authorities have the power to exempt land from access rights altogether and to introduce byelaws to regulate access rights, including to address the preservation of public order and safety and the prevention of damage, nuisance or danger. Byelaws have been in place since 2017 in Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to restrict camping. An alternative approach is being taken by Perth and Kinross Council, to pilot a countryside ranger service with a view to tackling poor behaviour.

Liability of landowners

Landowners may also be concerned about liability for injury suffered on the land. In terms of the Occupiers' Liability (Scotland) Act 1960, an occupier of land can be liable if someone is injured as a result of a hazard on the land. Although landowners may not encourage, or even welcome the public on their land, they must take reasonable care to avoid injuries. This does not mean that the land must be rendered risk--free; many naturally occurring or obvious hazards will not require action, and even those that do, for example hidden ditches, may only require clear signage of their presence.

Landowners must use and manage their land responsibly by respecting the public's right of access and monitoring their land for any potential hazards which could cause injury. It is accepted that access may need to be restricted from time to time, to carry out their business safely and effectively, however it is key that landowners consider whether their main motive for implementing such restrictions is to deter the public. Actions taken to simply keep the public off land is not permitted.


Kate Donachie

Legal Director

Lucy Rice