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Access Rights and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code

Scottish Outdoor Access Code banner

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',

see the Ranger Service Guide To Responsible Access In West Lothian.

Provided you are behaving responsibly our access rights cover all of these non-motorised recreational activities:

Activities excluded from access rights include:

  • Field Sports (opens new window) (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 (opens new window) for recreation (although you are allowed to cross it)

In Scotland, you can go onto most land and water to enjoy the outdoors.

Scottish Outdoor Access Code

The Police Scotland Livestock Worrying (opens new window) (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 (opens new window), 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 (opens new window)forestry operations (opens new window) 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 (opens new window) 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 (opens new window) 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. 

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