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Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000: Fact Sheets

Factsheet 1: Overview (Rich Text Format - 16 KB)
Factsheet 2: Access (Rich Text Format - 22 KB)
Factsheet 3: Rights of Way (Rich Text Format - 35 KB)
Factsheet 4: Nature Conservation (Rich Text Format - 53 KB)
Factsheet 5: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Rich Text Format - 12 KB)

Factsheet 1: Overview

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 will extend the public's ability to enjoy the countryside whilst also providing safeguards for landowners and occupiers. It will create a new statutory right of access and modernise the rights of way system as well as giving greater protection to Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), providing better management arrangements for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) and strengthening wildlife enforcement legislation.

The Act is a balanced package of measures that will allow people to enjoy more of the countryside. It will help to conserve the rural environment, protect wildlife, and also ensure landowners can use the land to its best advantage.

What the Act does:

Part I: Access

The Act gives the public a new right of access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land. It also recognises the needs of landowners and managers.

  • the right will not extend to cycling, horseriding or driving a vehicle;

  • landowners will be allowed to close land up to 28 days each year;

  • there will not be access to gardens or parks or to cultivated land.

Part II: Rights of Way

The Act improves the rights of way legislation by encouraging the creation of new routes and clarifying uncertainties about what rights already exist.

  • local authorities will be required to review and publish plans for improving rights of way in their areas, taking into account the needs of the public including disabled people;

  • setting an end point, after 25 years, to the recording of certain rights of way on definitive maps;

  • Roads used as Public Paths (RUPPs) will be redesignated as a new category of way known as a Restricted Byway having public rights of way for non-motorised users;

  • a new right for landowners to apply to a council for orders diverting or extinguishing footpaths or bridleways and a right of appeal against refusals;

  • occupiers of land to be given a right to make temporary diversions to footpaths and bridleways located on their land where this is necessary in order to carry out certain types of works (to be specified in regulations) in cases where such works are likely to endanger the users of the right of way in question;

  • powers enabling diversion or closure of rights of way for crime prevention in designated areas, and for school security;

  • powers enabling diversions of rights of way to protect SSSIs;

  • individuals will be able to seek a court order requiring a local highway authority to remove an obstruction, and Magistrates' Courts will be able to require a person who has been convicted of wilfully obstructing a highway to remove the obstruction;

  • the offence of driving a motor vehicle on a footpath or bridleway or elsewhere than on a road is extended so that it applies to vehicles which may not be covered at present. The offence is also applied to restricted byways. Ways shown on a definitive map as footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways will be presumed to be so unless proved to the contrary; and

  • local authorities will be required to consider the needs of people with mobility problems when authorising the erection of new stiles and gates on footpaths or bridleways; and authorities will be able to enter into agreements with owners or occupiers of land to fund the replacement or adaptation of existing stiles and gates to make them safer or more convenient for people with mobility problems.

  • Vehicular Access Across Common Land

  • The Act contains provisions relating to the grant of statutory easements for vehicular access over land (including common land) on which it is an offence to drive a vehicle. The Act enables the creation of a statutory easement where a person has used an access to property across land on which it is an offence to drive a vehicle, provided certain qualifying criteria are met. Regulations will deal with issues such as the criteria to be met in order to apply for an easement; the compensation to be paid by the property owner to the land owner; how the application for the easement must be made; the conditions to which the easement will be subject and dispute resolution procedures.

Part III: Nature Conservation and Wildlife Protection

Biological Diversity

The Act provides a statutory basis for biodiversity conservation hitherto undertaken as a matter of policy.

  • A new duty on Government Departments and the National Assembly to have regard to biodiversity conservation and maintain lists of species and habitats for which conservation steps should be taken or promoted.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest

Improves the procedures associated with the notification, protection and management of SSSIs.

  • conservation agencies are given the power to refuse consent for damaging activities and to encourage positive management of the land;

  • a statutory duty for public bodies to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs;

  • increased penalties for damage to SSSIs by owners and occupiers and other parties.

Wildlife Protection

Will strengthen legal protection for threatened species and bring up to date Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

  • Makes certain offences 'arrestable' - this also means that stronger search and seizure powers are available to the police;

  • creates a new offence of reckless disturbance;

  • gives increased powers to the police and wildlife inspectors - they will have the power to enter premises to check species sales controls and can require tissue samples to be taken from wildlife species for DNA analysis;

  • enables Courts to impose heavier fines and prison sentences for virtually all wildlife offences.

Part IV: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The Act will improve the management of Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) by the introduction of two new measures.

  • requiring local authorities in whose areas AONBs are contained to prepare and publish a management plan for each AONB.

  • allowing conservation boards to be created, by order, for individual AONBs where there is local support. Conservation boards would take over responsibility for the management plan and other aspects of the management of the AONB from the local authorities. There would be a mixture of members appointed from the local authorities and parishes, and also by the Secretary of State to represent conservation, land management and countryside recreation interests.

Part V Town and Village Greens

  • The Act clarifies the definition of town and village green contained in the Commons Registration Act 1965. It introduces the concept of neighbourhood and also provides that use of the land for lawful sports and pastimes must be by a significant number of people from the locality or neighbourhood.

Background Documents

Access - Public consultation paper Access to the Open Countryside in England and Wales published in February 1998. A statement of the Government's access proposals was published in March 1999 Access to the Countryside in England & Wales: The Government's Framework for Action.

Rights of Way Consultation document - Improving Rights of Way in England and Wales July 1999.

SSSIs - a consultation paper was issued in September 1998 SSSIs:Better Protection and Management, following responses the Government's Framework for Action was published in August 1999.

Wildlife -The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime's recommendations for changes to strengthen wildlife law enforcement were published for consultation in March 1997. Ministers announced their support in press notices July (PN 286) and October (PN395) 1997.Note.

AONBs - Countryside Commission document CCP 532 Protecting our Finest Countryside: Advice to Government, July 1998.

The Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000. Copies of the Act are on sale from The Stationery Office 0870 6005522 or can be found on the internet at www.publications.parliament.uk


 

Factsheet 2: Access

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act will fulfil the Government's manifesto commitment to give people greater freedom to explore open countryside.

Key elements

  • a new right of public access to mountain, moor, heath, down and registered common land;

  • provision of effective safeguards to take account of the needs of landowners and managers and of other interests, including wildlife;

  • the right will not apply to developed land, gardens or to cultivated land;

  • the right will be subject to sensible restrictions to avoid activities which might cause harm or damage;

  • the right will not extend to cycling, horseriding or driving a vehicle;

  • landowners' liability as occupiers will be reduced to a minimum;

  • provision for landowners to close access land or otherwise restrict access without needing permission for up to 28 days each year;

  • provision for further closures or restrictions to take account of the needs of conservation, land management, defence and national security, and safety;

  • provision for possible extension of the right of access to coastal land, but only after public consultation;

  • a power for landowners voluntarily to dedicate their land for access.

Why is greater access needed?

There is a long history of public and parliamentary campaigns to secure a right for people to walk freely across mountains, moors and other uncultivated countryside. Previous Governments have responded to demands for such freedom, most notably with the National Parks & Access to the Countryside Act 1949. But the Act proved complex, and large tracts of open countryside in England and Wales remain closed to the public.

Demand for greater access has been demonstrated through polls conducted by Gallup and NOP, on behalf of the Country Landowners' and Ramblers' Associations respectively. Around 80% of those surveyed wish to see more countryside opened up.

When will people be able to use the new right and how will they know?

  • The new right of access came into effect on 31 October 2005 across of the whole of England.

  • The Countryside Agency has issued publicity and information about the new right of access.

Background

A statement of the Government's access proposals was published in March 1999, entitled Access to the Countryside in England & Wales: The Government's Framework for Action. The framework was developed in the light of responses to the public consultation paper, Access to the Open Countryside in England & Wales, published in February 1998, and the results of a study of the economic, environmental and social benefits and costs of different approaches for improving access to open countryside.

These documents and other supporting information can be viewed on the Countryside Legislation pages.


 

Factsheet 3: Rights of Way

Rights of way are minor highways that exist for the benefit of the community at large. Historically they were an integral part of the country's transport system, but have long since evolved into a recreational web which enables people to explore the countryside on foot, on horseback or on wheels. At the same time, some parts of the rights of way network, in both rural and urban areas, provide a convenient means of travelling from one place to another, particularly for short journeys.

What does the Act do?

  • improves the legislation governing the administration and management of rights of way;

  • requires local highway authorities to review and publish plans for improving rights of way in their areas, taking into account the needs of the public including disabled people;

  • sets a target date of 25 years for the recording on local authorities' definitive maps of certain rights of way created before 1949;

  • enables landowners to apply to a council for an order to divert or extinguish a footpath or bridleway and appeal against its decision;

  • gives occupiers of land the right to make temporary diversions to footpaths and bridleways located on their land in order to carry out certain types of works (to be specified in regulations) in cases where such works are likely to endanger users of the right of way;

  • introduces powers for highway authorities, on application by the relevant conservation body (that is, English Nature or the Countryside Council for Wales), to divert rights of way in order to protect Sites of Special Scientific Interest;

  • creates a new category of way - Restricted Byway - for all traffic except motor vehicles to replace the current category of Roads Used as Public Paths (RUPPs);

  • gives the public a right of way over restricted byways on foot, horseback, cycle and for horse-drawn vehicles. Any as yet undiscovered vehicular rights would have to be proved on a case by case basis;

  • provides powers to regulate traffic for conservation purposes;

  • enables Magistrates' Courts to require a person who has been convicted of wilfully obstructing a highway to remove the obstruction. It also enables individuals to seek a Magistrates' Court order requiring a local highway authority to secure the removal of certain obstructions;

  • gives highway authorities the power to close or divert rights of way in order to prevent crime in designated areas and to protect children and staff on school grounds, including a right for school proprietors to apply for an order to close or divert a right of way;

  • extends the offence of driving a motor vehicle on a footpath or bridleway or elsewhere than on a road so that it applies to vehicles which are not be covered at present and applies the offence to restricted byways. Ways shown on a definitive map as footpaths, bridleways or restricted byways will be presumed to be so unless proved to the contrary

  • requires local authorities to consider the needs of people with mobility problems when authorising the erection of new stiles and gates on footpaths or bridleways; enable authorities to enter into agreements with owners or occupiers of land to fund the replacement or adaptation of existing stiles and gates to make them safer or more convenient for people with mobility problems; and

  • gives powers to the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales to require local highway authorities to report on their rights of way functions.

Why is the legislation necessary?

To modernise the rights of way system to better meet the needs of today's users and land managers and also to complement proposals on access to open countryside.

What will the changes mean for different groups?

The Act will encourage a proactive approach to the provision of linear access to match it more closely to modern patterns of demand and land use whilst ensuring environmental concerns and the needs of disabled people are better reflected.

Background

The rights of way provisions were the subject of wide consultation, including a series of discussions with the key organisations. Previous framework / consultation documents. The Government's intention to legislate on rights of way was announced on 8 March 1999 in Access to the Countryside in England and Wales: The Government's Framework for Action. The Government's consultation paper on rights of way, Improving Rights of Way in England and Wales, was published in July 1999 following receipt of recommendations from the former Countryside Commission in Rights of Way in the 21st Century - Conclusions and Recommendations (CCP 550). The rights of way elements of the Bill were developed and finalised in the light of the responses to the consultation paper. Note: Consultation documents are available.


 

Factsheet 4: Nature Conservation

Biodiversity Conservation

The Government has signed the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and has worked with others to implement its provisions, in part through the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. Implementation by policy in the past has included the identification of species and habitat types which are priorities for conservation action.

What will the provisions for biodiversity conservation do?

  • Place a duty on Government Departments to have regard to the purpose of conserving biological diversity, in exercising their functions;
  • Provide for the publication and maintenance of lists of the most important species and habitat types for conservation;
  • Require the Secretary of state and the National Assembly to take steps to further the conservation of the listed habitat types and species and to promote such steps by others.

Why are the changes necessary?

Statutory underpinning of biodiversity conservation demonstrates the Government's commitment to long-term implementation of action to conserve biodiversity wherever it occurs, in accordance with the UN Convention.

What will the changes mean to people affected by them?

The conservation of biodiversity has been undertaken by Government as a matter of policy through implementation of the UK Biodiversity Action Plan. This has included the development of specific Action Plans for priority species and habitats and the integration of biodiversity considerations into public policies and programmes. The Government intends to continue with the direction and approach already adopted which involves working in partnership with a wide range of public and non-public bodies. The provisions will not make a direct impact on private individuals except in terms of general quality of life through the enhanced conservation of biodiversity.

How will the people affected be kept in touch?

Action to conserve biodiversity often involves the raising of awareness and education of the public so that they can contribute to conservation efforts voluntarily. The UK Biodiversity Action Plan puts an emphasis on maintaining contact with partner organisations in the UK Biodiversity Group (UKBG) through a wide variety of mechanisms. The UKBG website is currently being updated to provide more comprehensive information.

Background

The Biodiversity Conservation provisions in the Act arose as a result of consideration which took place during its passage through Parliament. The Government wished to demonstrate its commitment to the conservation of biological diversity in general and to the existing approach of identifying the most important elements of biodiversity for conservation action. It was considered important to ensure that the provision was related to the Government's obligations under the UN Convention, that the current partnership approach was sustained and that there was sufficient flexibility to adjust priorities for the future.

Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs)

SSSIs are notified under Section 28 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 as areas of special interest by reason of their flora, fauna, geological or physiographical features: they are the best examples of our natural heritage.

What do the provisions for Sites of Special Scientific Interest do?

  • improve the protection and management of SSSIs;
  • introduce new and enhanced powers for the conservation agencies (English Nature and the Countryside Council for Wales);
  • a more structured approach to management advice and a new power to refuse consent for damaging activities; development of management schemes to help combat neglect, and the introduction of management notices. This is balanced by new appeal procedures.
  • to support these new powers the agencies have additional powers to enter land, and more flexible powers to purchase land compulsorily.
  • public bodies are under a statutory duty to further the conservation and enchancement of SSSIs, both in carrying out their operations and exercising their decision-making functions.
  • increased penalties for deliberate damage to SSSIs of up to 20,000 in the magistrate's court and unlimited fines in the crown court; and a new court power to order restoration of the damaged special interest, where this is practicable.
  • a new general offence to apply to damage by any person, and extended byelaw making powers for the agencies, so that they may be applied on any SSSI, where appropriate.

Why are the changes necessary?

Only 56 % of sites are in favourable condition: the changes will give the conservation agencies tools to improve this, and will create conditions in which sites can be positively managed.

What will the changes mean to people affected by them?

Owners and occupiers of SSSIs will benefit from clearer procedures. They will also have new rights of appeal against the action of the conservation agencies in refusing consent, or against a management notice. Management agreements may be made on an SSSI or on other land, where the management affects the SSSI, and payments will be directed at positive management of the special features.

How will the people affected be kept in touch?

Full publicity has been given to the proposals, and we will be issuing a Code of Guidance to the conservation agencies on the conduct of the new procedures. The agencies will notify all owners and occupiers of SSSIs individually of the new legislation, and associated procedural changes.

Background

The Government made a manifesto commitment in May 1997 to improve the protection of wildlife: ensuring the protection of almost 5000 SSSIs in England and Wales is central to this. A consultation paper was issued in September 1998, SSSIs: Better Protection and Management, which set out wide ranging proposals seeking to secure the sustainable management of these sites. Following the consideration of nearly 600 consultation responses, and extensive discussions with interested parties, the Government's Framework for Action was published in August 1999, setting out the basis for this legislation. The consultation documents are available.

Wildlife Enforcement

What will the provisions on wildlife enforcement do?

  • strengthen the species enforcement provisions of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981;
  • make those offences which relate to species of conservation concern 'arrestable' as an exception to the provisions of section 24(1) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. This will also bring stronger powers of search and seizure for the police;
  • provide police officers and DETR Wildlife Inspectors with powers to require tissue samples to be taken from wildlife species for DNA analysis;
  • Give the option of custodial sentences of up to six months for many wildlife offences. For offences involving the release of non-native species, a sentence of up to two years may be handed down. At present only fines can be imposed;
  • increase the range of offences for which police officers can obtain search warrants;
  • change the time limits for bringing prosecutions. Prosecutions must normally be brought within six months of an offence being committed. The changes will mean that prosecutions can be brought within six months of the date evidence of an offence becomes available, but within two years of an offence taking place;
  • make it an offence to recklessly disturb a place of rest or shelter of a protected animal or a nest site. In the case of cetacea (whales, dolphins) and the basking shark, intentional or reckless disturbance anywhere will be an offence;
  • extends the Department's Wildlife Inspectors' powers to enter premises to ascertain whether various offences have been or are being committed.

Why are the changes necessary?

Wildlife legislation has no effect if it is not implemented and enforced. These measures will remedy weaknesses which were hampering the efforts of police officers to bring people to justice and will provide stronger penalties for people found guilty of committing offences. The changes to powers for Wildlife Inspectors will mean that they can play an even greater role in preventing and in some cases detecting crime.

What will the changes mean to people affected by them?

People who keep certain bird species in captivity are already subject to spot checks and routine inspections. People who trade in certain species will now also be subject to such checks, and in some instances both keepers and traders might be asked to make their specimens available for the taking of a tissue sample for DNA analysis.

How will the people affected be kept in touch?

Information about the changes will be sent via the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime to all Police forces and to all members of PAW; information will be sent to all existing keepers of registered birds and to applicants for new registrations or sales licences; Inspectors will be given extra training and issued with advice notes, and information will be published on the Department's website.

Background

The Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime's recommendations for changes to strengthen wildlife law enforcement were published for consultation in March 1997. Ministers announced their support for the majority of the recommendations in July (PN 286) and October (PN 395) 1997, and these are now being taken forward in the Bill.


 

Factsheet 5: Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty

Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs)

Provision for designating Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) was made in Section 87 of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 (the 1949 Act). AONBs are designated by the Countryside Agency in England or by the Countryside Council for Wales. To take effect the designation must be confirmed by the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, in England, or by the National Assembly for Wales. The purpose of the designation is the conservation and enhancement of the natural beauty of the areas concerned.

What does the Act do?

  • requires local authorities in whose areas AONBs are contained to prepare and publish a management plan for each AONB.
  • allows conservation boards to be created, by order, for individual AONBs where there is local support. Conservation boards would take over responsibility for the management plan and other aspects of the management of the AONB from the local authorities. (Further details below.)
  • places a duty on public bodies, Ministers, statutory undertakers and those holding public office, when doing anything so as to affect land in an AONB, to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB.
  • consolidates the AONBs legislation from the 1949 Act in this Act, bringing it all together and updating various references.

Why is the legislation necessary?

To enable AONBs to be managed more effectively for conservation and enhancement of their natural beauty and increasing people's enjoyment of them. Although the 1949 Act gave extensive powers to local planning authorities to take action to conserve and enhance AONBs, it did not give any local bodies specific responsibilities for doing so.

How will it affect people who live or work in or visit an AONB?

The introduction of statutory management plans will raise the profile of AONBs. There will be extensive local consultation on their preparation and review - all interested local groups will have an opportunity to contribute their views. It is hoped that all those people who contribute in various ways to the management of the AONB will sign up to the objectives in the plan. The Countryside Agency is working with AONB managers to develop guidance on management plans, which will be issued next year. Management plans must be in place within three years of the legislation coming into effect.

Conservation boards are intended to allow more effective management of AONBs where a number of local authorities are involved. They will not be the right solution for every AONB. Local people will be consulted before a board is set up. At least 60% of the members of a board will be appointed locally.

The Act will not bring any changes to the development plan regime for AONBs, which is already protective. The Government confirmed earlier this year that AONBs are equal in their landscape quality to the National Parks, and equally stringent measures to protect the landscape should apply. However, all public bodies, Ministers, statutory undertakers and those holding public office will in future have a statutory duty, when performing any functions so as to affect land in an AONB, to have regard to the purpose of conserving and enhancing the natural beauty of the AONB. This is in line with the duty such bodies already have towards National Park purposes, and further demonstrates the importance the Government places on effective protection for AONBs.

Conservation boards

The Countryside Agency and AONB managers have for some time sought the possibility of setting up statutory conservation boards for particular AONBs where they would benefit from such a management mechanism and there is local support. Most AONBs are likely to remain cared for by their local authorities; conservation boards will generally be most suited to some of the larger AONBs which cross a number of local authority boundaries.

The principal purpose of conservation boards will be to conserve and enhance the natural beauty of the AONB. They will also have responsibility for increasing the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the AONB by the public, and will be required to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities, particularly through working with other bodies such as local authorities and the RDAs which have the major responsibilities for economic and social development. Conservation boards' detailed functions will be set out in their individual establishment orders. Local authority functions relating to the management of the AONB may be transferred to a board or shared with it, but development planning and development control powers will remain with the local authorities.

The membership of AONB conservation boards will be made up of local authority members (at least 40%), parish members (at least 20% in England), and members appointed by the Secretary of State to represent interests such as conservation, land management and countryside recreation.

Background

The Countryside Commission (now Countryside Agency) published Protecting our Finest Countryside: Advice to Government (CCP 532) in July 1998, seeking improved management arrangements for AONBs including the introduction of statutory management plans and conservation boards. The Government expressed support for its major provisions. Measures subsequently appeared in a private peer's Bill introduced in the House of Lords by Lord Renton of Mount Harry in April 1999, but the Bill failed to become law. Amendments to the Countryside and Rights of Way Bill on similar lines, tabled by Gordon Prentice MP, gained all-party support earlier this year and the Government undertook to bring forward suitable amendments as an addition to the Bill in the House of Lords.

Page last modified: 28 October 2005
Page published: 7 March 2000
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