Open Access Land

Understand your rights when walking in the countryside

Open Access Land (Common Land and Open Country) is identified on the new Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps. These are available from local tourist information centres in Bournemouth and Poole.

You have a right to walk across Access Land. You cannot, however, wander wherever you like. There are some limits for health and safety, privacy and conservation reasons.

Walkers have a duty to be careful of the wildlife in the area. 'Access Rights' do not extend to within 20 metres of a house.

The right to 'walk' includes a right to use a manual or mechanical disability vehicle. However, the terrain and barriers may not always make the route suitable. Restrictions might apply and are shown on the maps in red.

Countryside Code

The Countryside Code, like the Highway Code, is the law of 'give and take' guidance. It confirms your rights and responsibilities when enjoying the countryside.

For example: On Access Land (the 'right' to roam comes with responsibilities) and Open Country (locally mostly heathland) you must not disturb protected wildlife (Countryside Act 2000). Dogs to be kept on short leads between 1 March and 31 July to protect wildlife from disturbance during nesting season.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI)

The majority of Access Land in the Borough of Poole and Bournemouth Borough Council are Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), as are many of the Nature Reserves in Poole and Bournemouth.

Access rights means, as walkers in the countryside, we all have a responsibility to the wildlife. Ground nesting birds, adders and other protected species live, breed and nest on heathland in Poole. Disturbing or harming a protected bird, reptile or mammal is an offence, whether done on purpose or by being careless. This includes allowing your dog to disturb a rare animal. It also means you must not get too close to birds or reptiles making them seek cover or abandon their nests.

Only licensed ecologists from recognised organisations can get close to these rare animals to do surveys, monitor or move them to safer habitat.

Restricting Access

Land holders can apply to restrict access in the short or long term for safety, farming or conservation reasons. The restriction applications are sent to the Dorset Local Access Forum for recommendations. The final decision rests with the Countryside Agency.