‘Open Access’ is the right that everyone has to walk freely on areas that have been specially mapped as access land.
Access land includes mountains, moors, heaths, downland, Registered Commons and land that has been dedicated by the landowner (the Forestry Commission dedicated many woodlands).
Many areas of access land are home to special wildlife or are managed for grazing animals or game birds.
Dogs on access land
On access land:
- Dogs must be on a lead between 1st March - 31st July, to protect rare ground-nesting birds and their young, like skylarks on downland and nightjars on heaths.
- Dogs must be on a lead near farm animals (but if you do get chased you should always let the dog off the lead so that you can both get away quickly)
- There may be other restrictions (eg dogs on leads all year round) or exclusions (dogs not allowed) for specific wildlife, land management or public reasons.
In some places the above rules are set aside by the land manager, especially if people have traditionally used the land freely for dog walking in the past and there are no vulnerable wildlife or grazing animals there at the time. In other areas the climate may mean that the period when birds are nesting is a month or so longer, so there you may be requested to keep your dog on a lead for a little longer.
In most places the rules protect rare wildlife and grazing animals - even friendly family dogs may suddenly and unexpectedly decide to give chase, with potentially horrible consequences for both dog and animal or bird.
The rules on new coastal access land will be slightly different and this page will report on those differences when they are introduced.
For further information about access land go to Dorset Open Access.