Access to the Countryside Law (NI)

Access to the Countryside Law (NI)

Understanding Access to the Countryside Law in Northern Ireland

Image of Mourne Mountains courtesy of Alsal Photography

Access to the Countryside Law (NI) 

Understanding Access to the Countryside Law in Northern Ireland

Access to land in Northern Ireland is more restricted than other parts of the UK, so if visiting, make yourself aware of access rights so that walkers as a whole foster good relations with landowners and other stakeholders.

Access to the Countryside

Generally speaking, access to the countryside is limited to:

  • areas of land in public ownership to which the public are invited to use
  • public rights of way
  • where the public have the landowner's permission to visit

De facto Access

In some areas of Northern Ireland there is de facto access to open land. This means that landowners tolerate access but, irrespective of the historic use of the land, there is no legal basis to the situation.

Permissive Paths

A permissive path is not a public right of way, but a route which that the landowner has given permission for people to use. Most paths in Country Parks and over National Trust land are permissive. So too are some paths which district councils have negotiated with private landowners. These agreements may include for insurance and maintenance by the district council. A permissive path may only be used by the public under the terms and conditions agreed by the landowner. Most permissive paths are only open to walkers.

Public Rights of Way

Anybody can use a public right of way that is:

  • a public footpath - on foot only
  • a bridleway - on foot or on a horse (but not a bike)
  • a carriageway - on foot, horse or bike 

There is no right to camp or light a first, without the landowner's permission.

District councils have a record of rights of way.

Access to Open Countryside

Open countryside is a statutory term which includes open land, such as: mountains, moorland, woodlands, the foreshore, etc. Although some areas of the countryside may have been used freely for recreation for many years, the public have no general rights to wander over such land. If you use such land, bear in mind that you do so only with the tolerance of the landowner. Even if people have always roamed over the land, you may still be trespassing and may be asked to leave. See de facto access, above.


Trespass occurs when a person goes onto someone's land without permission or legal right, or when the do not comply with the legal conditions under which they are allowed to be there. If you are told you are trespassing, you should agree to leave the area immediately.

Further Advice & Information


Thanks to Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency for help with this page.