Small Woodland Owners' Group

Rights of Access

Paperwork, grants, legal issues

Postby docsquid » Tue Apr 03, 2012 3:01 pm

I'm just researching the potential and actual effects of rights of access to small woodlands. In Scotland, there is universal access to the whole countryside with few exceptions, and this includes all small woodlands (unless they meet the exemptions, which seem to be few, the main one affecting woods being sites that charge for access).

I would be interested to hear from small woodland owners in Scotland what their experience of universal access is. Are the visitors usually responsible? Have you had increases in your insurance liabilities as a result? Have you incurred expenses in creating paths, signage, removing barriers and gates etc. Have you had any issues with illegal access such as motorcycles as a result of opening the woods to horse riders, cyclists and walkers? Have you noticed any impact on the land, such as soil compaction, or impacts on the wildlife present on the land? Have you noticed any increase in theft of wood or trees, damage to trees, poaching, theft of equipment or damage to equipment and buildings?

What do people in the rest of the UK think of the prospect of having to open all woods (not just those with a public right of way) to all horse riders, cyclists and walkers? How would this affect you and your woodland and your ability to enjoy it? Would it affect your woodland business, or your ability to earn money from your woods (e.g. through sale of firewood, woodcrafts, or charging to run courses in a quiet and private environment)?

Are you aware that the Cycling Touring Club and Ramblers are advocating universal access to all countryside land, including privately-owned woodlands?

I'd love to hear your views.

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Postby wrekin » Wed Apr 04, 2012 6:20 am

I think universal access would be a terrible idea, although I'm sceptical it will happen as the farmers are a powerful lobby. Do you have any links to statements by the CTC and Ramblers advocating universal access so we can see how the word it?

Thanks - Woods, huts, cabins, sheds, forestry
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Postby Bellhurst » Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:37 am

Agree with Wrekin about universal access, but also would like to see what exactly they are campaigning for. The press tend to exaggerate and overlook caveats and exceptions. To answer docsquid, our woodland is quite remote from roads/carparks but has a public footpath along one side. It isn't fenced and we don't mind walkers, but it's ancient coppice with much undisturbed ground flora on clay, so we certainly don't want horse riders and have a strictly no horses notice (after all it's not a bridleway). There are stables nearby and the riders do seem to respect this.

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Postby jennysmate » Wed Apr 04, 2012 10:13 am

I use my wood purely for pleasure. If they brought in universal access in England, could I change the status of my wood to a private garden? Just a thought.

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Postby docsquid » Wed Apr 04, 2012 11:10 am

Hi there - the document is a response to the Scottish Countryside Access legislation, is available on their web site, and repeatedly calls for the rest of the UK to adopt similar legislation. We have had some correspondence with their office on this issue (as we are also CTC members). There seems to be a bit of a difficulty in getting them to acknowledge that there are significant differences between the Scottish and English countryside (although you could argue that some parts of England and Wales do have similarities).

Their response to the Forestry Panel is a bit more proportionate, but still supports compusion if volutary agreements and persuasion do not work. - there is another version of this they sent to my husband that is even more forceful in the position the CTC take.

RamblersUK take the view that all woodland, not just that in the public estate, should be open access

Jennysmate, no you couldn't do that. A garden is a garden around a house.

Bellhurst, the Scottish system gives universal recreational access rights - this means any non-motorised access, and therefore you would not, for example, be able to permit walking and exclude cycling and horse riding.

Anyone from Scotland with any experience of people exercising their rights of access - positive and negative?

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Postby MartinD » Wed Apr 04, 2012 12:29 pm

I would object on the basis that a significant part of my woodland is 'working', in the sense that I store cut and drying timber, ready for burning. When I have previously left stacked timber in that part of the woodland close to the public highway and footpath, it has been stolen. (Two 4WD with trailers - so not spur of the moment). Public access to the entire woodland would probably lead to further thefts, especially as wood becomes a more valuable resource as the price of fuel increases. As docsquid points out, there are significant differences, certainly between Scotland and the more densely populated areas of England. I assume that woodland in areas close to the central belt in Scotland would face similar issues to urban England. One of the main reasons I bought the woodland was to ensure its privacy, as when it was for sale there were applications for 'leisure activities', such as paint-balling, which might have meant people traipsing through the wood immediately behind the house. If public access does come about, am I going to be compensated for loss of amenity?

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Postby jennysmate » Wed Apr 04, 2012 2:11 pm

I googled " legal definition of private garden" and got this article from the telegraph

The legal definition of a garden

A "garden" is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as an "enclosed piece of ground devoted to the cultivation of flowers, fruit or vegetables".

By Caroline Gammell

6:04PM BST 04 Jul 2008

It is also described as a parcel belonging to a house which passes on with sale.

The Forestry Commission concedes that a garden could compromise woodland as well.

Judges sitting in the High Court decided that the OED definition was "too narrow" and should take into consideration the trend for wild gardens and meadow areas.

Lord Justice Moses said the key to what constituted a garden was the "relationship between the owner and the land and the history and character of the land and space".

It was argued that the overgrown parts of land could not be "garden" because it had run wild more than 30 years ago.

Under guidelines issued by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) a licence is not required for felling trees in a garden, churchyard, or orchard.

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Postby docsquid » Wed Apr 04, 2012 2:46 pm

jennysmate - I think the definitions of garden differ between England and Scotland - I'll try and find something relating to the Scottish code...

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Postby docsquid » Wed Apr 04, 2012 2:56 pm

Here we go - from the Scottish code

"Some larger houses are surrounded by quite large areas of

land referred to as the “policies” of the house. These are

usually areas of grassland, parkland or woodland. Here, too,

you will need to make a judgement in the light of the particular

circumstances. Parts of the policies may be intensively

managed for the domestic enjoyment of the house and include

lawns, flowerbeds, paths, seats, sheds, water features and

summerhouses. Access rights would not extend to these

intensively managed areas. The wider, less intensively

managed parts of the policies, such as grassland and

woodlands, whether enclosed or not, would not be classed as

a garden and so access rights can be exercised. In these areas

of grassland, parkland or woodland, you can also exercise

access rights along driveways, except where the ground

becomes a garden, and pass by gatehouses and other


Obviously this is different from the definition jennysmate provided above. The Scottish Code actually makes it clear in a number of places that a garden is around a house.

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Postby Meadowcopse » Wed Apr 04, 2012 9:12 pm

Jennysmate - cheers for that reference, I had made a similar interpretation from several other sources, but without specific case histories.

I'm lucky with the 0.9 hectare plot that has traditional orchard on the edge of a meadow setting and mature hedgerow trees and recently planted specimen trees (female black poplars and experimental elms) and a couple of clumps of native broadleaf species for future coppice and some planting rows between the fruit trees for veg and nursery stock, that I can tick various boxes in the wide areas of agriculture and horticulture, but am exempted from some obligations because I'm under 1 hectare.

I have an old track (public footpath) along one boundary and another near-by that makes for a pleasant circular walk along the English / Welsh Border and River Dee. There are three types of visitor:

1. Passers by (interested or otherwise) that glance over the gate / hedges / fence.

2. People who wander through (despite no public access), but are respectful to the surroundings and cause no problems or damage.

3. People who deliberately walk through and cause damage by ignorance or wilfully, or engage in illegal or anti-social activities.

There is no easy answer to the latter, but to create an open public access right, without an existing long held cultural respect for land use, habitat and owners and managers is misguided. I'm more surprised by adults who try to 'justify' their access and activities than wayward children and teenagers. The children and teenagers have some sense of doing something wrong compared to (for example on my plot) a middle aged woman kicking a football for 2 loose dogs amongst recently planted young trees... She was surprised somebody 'owned' the land and presumed I got grants and therefore she was entitled to enjoy it.

On another plot, 'militant' ramblers were doing footpath walks because of a perception of obstruction in the area, these were from far off and managed to get lost from one path and were a bit snotty when caught peering around outbuilding and stables, ironically there was a 'local' footpath group in the area who make the effort to engage with landowners and help out with keeping styles in order and ensuring the council maintain way-marks every few years - positive engagement and some common ground. A 'challenging' approach (from both sides of the fence) will result in difficult and conflicting stand points.

I'm reminded of a farmer friend from near Kendal who had a tractor turn and field gateway along a narrow road and scenic hillside - he met with a car and picnic parked up, table, chairs the lot when he tried to turn into his blocked gateway with tractor and baler. There was a difficult period of stalemate from an arrogant middle-aged couple. Unofficially, he managed to obtain their name and address from the car reg number, but it was some weeks before he was passing through Carnforth and able to park in their gateway with his Missus, the sandwiches and a flask - they were a little less than understanding of the situation, but explaining why he was there and "be bloody thankful it was too far for the tractor and baler" meant they were probably a bit more thoughtful about parking in field gateways...

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