Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act

Applies to EnglandApplies to Wales

Title: Countryside and Rights of Way (CROW) Act

Category: England and Wales Law

Date: 2000

Reference: Chapter 37 [Full text] (see also DEFRA Factsheets)

General Description:

The CROW Act aims to make new provision for public access to the countryside; to amend the law relating to public rights of way; to enable traffic regulation orders to be made for the purpose of conserving an area's natural beauty; to make provision with respect to the driving of mechanically propelled vehicles elsewhere than on roads; to amend the law relating to nature conservation and the protection of wildlife; to make further provision with respect to areas of outstanding natural beauty; and for connected purposes.

The Act contains measures to improve public access to the open countryside and registered common land while recognising the legitimate interests of land owners; amends the law relating to rights of way and amends the law relating to nature conservation by strengthening protection for Sites of Special Scientific Interest through tougher penalties and providing extra powers for the prosecution of wildlife crime. It is split into three main parts:

  • Part I: Access
  • Part II: Rights of Way
  • Part III: Nature Conservation

Part I

of the Act is intended to give greater freedom for people to explore open countryside. It contains provisions to introduce a new statutory right of access for open-air recreation to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. It also includes a power to extend the right to coastal land by order and allows landowners voluntarily to dedicate any land to public access in perpetuity.

There will be restrictions on the new right - for example, it includes provisions for landowners to exclude or restrict access for any reason for up to 28 days a year without seeking permission. Landowners will also be able to seek further exclusions or restrictions on access for land management reasons. The Countryside Agency and in national parks, the National Park authorities, will be able to approve such applications and, in addition, will be able to approve exclusions and restrictions on grounds of nature and heritage conservation, fire prevention and to avoid danger to the public. The Act also includes provisions for restrictions on dogs on access land.  It is anticipated that the new Rights will be in place by 2005.

Part II

of the Act will also introduce improvements to the legislation governing the rights of way system. It includes measures for the strategic planning of rights of way networks, to improve the administration and management of rights of way, and to promote increased access for disabled people and for a new category of right of way for all traffic except motor vehicles to replace the current category of Roads Used as Public Paths.

There are environmental safeguards including powers to regulate traffic for conservation purposes, and to make diversion orders so as to prevent damage to sites of special scientific interest. There are also be provisions for landowners to apply to the local authority for an order to divert or extinguish a right of way.

In addition, there are measures to assist crime prevention in specified circumstances and to deal with obstructions to rights of way. The Act also clarifies and extends the offence of driving a motor vehicles on a footpath or bridleway so that it applies to vehicles such as trail bikes which may not be covered at present.

Part III

of the Act is concerned with the introduction of improved protection and management of SSSIs. It includes new and enhanced powers for the conservation agencies: power to refuse consent for damaging activities; introduction of management notices to combat neglect: additional powers to enter land; and more flexible powers to purchase land compulsorily. This is balanced by a more structured approach to management advice and new appeal procedures.

It also proposes increased penalties for deliberate damage to SSSIs of up to 20,000 in the magistrate's court and unlimited fines in the crown court; a new court power to order restoration of the damaged special interest, where this is practicable; and a new general offence to apply to third party damage.

Public bodies will be under a statutory duty to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs, both in carrying out their operations and exercising their decision-making functions.

SSSIs are nationally important sites for wildlife and geology.

It is planned to include statutory underpinning to Biodiversity Action Plans

The Act brings up-to-date and strengthen the species enforcement provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.  Its measures will include:

  • introducing the option of custodial sentences for wildlife offences;
  • providing Police officers and DETR Wildlife Inspectors with powers to require tissue samples to be taken from wildlife species for DNA analysis.

Please link to for online public maps of  access land and public information about the new right of access. The online maps also contain up-to-date information of any  restrictions or closures.   Please link to for information about CROW for land  managers.

Pertinence to Agriculture: Conservation, SSSIs, Rights of Way, Access to the Countryside

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