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Open access in the countryside

Open access gives everybody the right to visit mapped access land on foot. You don't have to stick to paths and you can enjoy walking, running, watching wildlife, picnicking, flying kites - or simply sit and enjoy the view.

Mountains, moors, heaths, downs and registered commons were mapped as access land, and landowners can dedicate land too.

Where can I find access land?

There are maps on the Natural England website (opens in a new window). The online maps also show when access land is closed, or if there are restrictions (for example dogs only allowed on a lead). Rights of Way across access land aren't affected by access land restrictions.  Ordnance Survey Explorer maps from 2005 onwards also show access land, though they're not definitive and sometimes show access land that has since been excluded.

Some areas within mapped access land are 'excepted' for common sense reasons, so open access rights do not apply. For example, excepted land includes:

  • Gardens
  • Land within 20 metres of a dwelling
  • Quarries
  • Golf courses
  • Arable land 


We have some absolutely stunning access land in Dorset, with special wildlife and fantastic landscapes. See more about walking in Dorset.


We need to guard against fire, damage and litter, pick up after our dogs and keep them on leads near livestock and whilst birds are nesting (usually 1 March - 31 July). Access land is often a special habitat with special species - for example Dartford Warblers and reptiles live on our heaths and skylarks, orchids and rare butterflies inhabit our downland.


You don't have to go on a long hike to soak up some Dorset countryside; a breath of fresh air or a change of scene could be just right for someone you know who's often stuck indoors. Or maybe a family 'expedition' with a camera, binoculars and a picnic could be a new adventure that's just up your street?

Further information

Natural England - Open Access Land (opens in a new window)

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