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Open access land

It is a walker’s responsibility to know their rights when walking through 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 Ordnance 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.

Dogs must be kept on short leads between 1 March and 31 July to protect wildlife from disturbance during nesting season.

Special sites of scientific interest

The majority of access land in Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole are sites of special scientific interest (SSSI), as are many of the Nature Reserves in the area.

Access rights means that as walkers in the countryside, we all have a responsibility to the wildlife.

Disturbing or harming a protected bird, reptile or mammal is an offence, whether done on purpose or accidentally. This includes allowing dogs to disturb a rare animal. It also means you must not get too close to birds or reptiles – as this may cause them to abandon nests.

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

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.