Roam wild in Scotland – and stay on the right side of the law this summer

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With ever tightening budgets, the summer ‘staycation’ has become a popular option for Scots and other visitors from the rest of the UK, but what are your rights – and responsibilities – when it comes to exploring the Scottish countryside? Jim Drysdale of the Law Society of Scotland's Rural Affairs Committee tells us.

“One of the biggest attractions of living in or visiting Scotland is the great outdoors whether you’re a climber, hillwalker or rambler or just want to have a great family holiday – whatever the weather!

“However, while we want to encourage people to get out and explore Scotland’s fantastic landscape, it’s important that people are respectful of those who live and work there and of course the land and wildlife that attracts thousands of visitors each year.”

The ‘right to roam’ was cemented by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 which allowed everyone the right to access land and inland water across the country. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code, published under the legislation, details the key principles to be followed by all - most importantly:

  •     Respect the interests and privacy of other people
  •     Care for the environment
  •     Take responsibility for your own actions

Drysdale said: “While the legislation allows people an extensive right to roam, it is not an unlimited right and does not extend to all areas of Scotland for all activities.

“There are some predictable exceptions which include going through buildings, curtilage around buildings, reasonable privacy and disturbance zones around houses, land with sown or growing crops, sports and recreational fields while in use, golf courses - except for crossing over them, building sites and working quarries.

“You can however freely access areas including fields containing livestock and horses and over bridges, paths, waterways, fences and walls so long as you do so in a responsible manner.

“Additionally, the right also applies underwater, in caves and in the air. Access rights can be exercised at any time of day or night, however if you are using this right at night, ensure that you take greater care to respect the interests and privacy of others. Similarly, additional care should be taken when accessing areas where there are livestock or wild animals nearby.”

Drysdale, a partner at law firm Anderson Strathern, adds that the right to roam extends to individuals only and not vehicles for recreation or passage - except motorised wheelchairs and while it does not extend to hunting, shooting or fishing, it does include other recreational purposes and activities. These include wild camping, horse riding, cycling, carriage driving, canoeing and sailing, and participation in events such as mountain marathons and orienteering events.

He added: “The law and guidance covering this right adopts a common sense approach and individuals adopting a similar attitude, acting in a responsible, respectful way, will be able to enjoy Scotland's countryside without issue – apart from perhaps the dreaded midge.”

For further information journalists can contact Louise Docherty on 0131 476 8164. Email: louisedocherty (at)

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Louise Docherty
The Law Society of Scotland
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