Where can I practise bushcraft in the UK? How to find places to practise bushcraft in the UK

by Elvis Jai Closs on July 17, 2021

Where can I practise bushcraft in the UK?
How to find a place to practise bushcraft skills in the UK

At some stage, we all want to get out to the woods and practise building shelters and lighting fires. However, we are restricted by landownership, bylaws, laws, access codes and regulations. This blog post will start to address where you can practise bushcraft in the UK.

Bushcraft Laws

In the UK, there are no laws that relate to bushcraft specifically. But there is a whole list of laws and regulations which are relevant too many of the activities that often fall under the practice of ‘bushcraft’ - particularly concerning fires, knives, foraging, fishing, trapping, and camping.

Access

Access is probably the biggest hurdle for those looking for somewhere to sharpen their bushcraft skills. Most of the land in the UK is privately owned or by authorities, even in national parks. Its most people's assumption that the landowner's permission is required to set foot on any land. While this is largely correct, there are many exceptions.

For starters, there are a multitude of footpaths and bridleways crisscrossing England and Wales. These provide access to an array of beautiful landscapes and unique habitats. The public rights of way are marked on Ordnance Survey maps. On the 1:50,000 Landranger seriesbridleways and footpaths are marked in red; and on the 1:25,000 Explorer series, they are marked in green.


Secondly, the Countryside And Rights Of Way Act 2000 established areas of open access land where access by foot is permitted. These areas are marked as shaded yellow on the OS 1:25,000 maps. A set of definitive maps is also available online at http://www.naturalengland.org.uk/

This land largely consists of upland and uncultivated areas where you have the ‘right to roam which permits too not to stick on the footpaths and bridleways.

While it’s always advisable to seek the landowner’s permission before entering private land. The laws surrounding trespassing in the UK are very relaxed which you should defiantly consider before deciding not to enter private property. Trespassing in the UK is mostly a civil tort rather than a criminal offence, with police having no authority to arrest a trespasser. There are many exceptions to this though, so please do research further.

Access - Scotland

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 governs land access in Scotland. It also provides a guide for access to inland water.  It gives the right to be on any land for recreational purposes (including cycling and horse riding but not hunting, shooting, fishing or with motorized vehicles, etc) And permits permission to cross land if done responsibly. It does not provide blanket permission to access any land under any circumstances. For example, you must not cause damage to crops, interfere with peoples privacy or economic activities.


This is reflected by The Scottish Outdoor Access Code, which is available at http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

Ordnance Survey maps of Scotland do not distinguish public rights of way from other tracks or footpaths. Scottish local authorities also have no obligation to signpost or mark public rights of way.

Access - Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the number of public rights of way is limited. Much of the access is down to landowners having granted public access - known as permissive access. Long-distance footpaths also require the landowner's permission. Much of the public land is also accessible. Again, these rights of way are marked clearly on Ordnance Survey maps.

Camping

 

To camp in England and Wales, you have to have the landowners permission. Wild camping is tolerated is many upland areas - largely coinciding with open access land - but be prepared to move on if asked.

In Scotland, access rights extend to camping and it is, therefore, legal to camp where there are no camping restrictions. However, it's recommended that you stick to unenclosed land so to avoid interfering with farming activities.

The regulations are similar in Northern Ireland in that you need the landowner's permission, but wild camping is tolerated in many upland areas such as the Mourne Mountains.

Fires

You must thee the landowners permission in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a campfire. Please see our full guide here.

Having a campfire in Scotland is allowed. The access code recommends that  “Wherever possible, use a stove rather than light an open fire. If you do wish to light an open fire, keep it small, under control, and supervised – fires that get out of control can cause major damage, for which you might be liable. Never light an open fire during prolonged dry periods or in areas such as forests, woods, farmland or on peaty ground or near to buildings or in cultural heritage sites where damage can be easily caused. Heed all advice at times of high risk. Remove all traces of an open fire before you leave.”


Foraging / Plant Use

Under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which covers the whole of the UK, it is illegal to uproot any wild plant without permission from the landowner.

Legally, to uproot a plant means to remove the specimen from the land. This definition also includes algae, lichen and fungi. Northern Ireland has similar plant protection laws under the Wildlife (Northern Ireland) Order, 1985.

There is also extra protections for plants in Areas of Special Scientific Interest (ASSIs), Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), and National Nature Reserves. 

Even landowners can be prosecuted for damaging or removing species in these areas unless they have consulted the relevant statutory body. Plants listed as “Schedule 8” under the legislation are endangered and cannot be picked, uprooted or destroyed.

So we can pick flowers, leaves, berries, nuts, seeds, and fungi in areas where we have legal access, but we must obtain the landowner's permission to uproot or remove entire plants.

When foraging, we recommend following the Botanical Society of the British Isles’ Code of Conduct for the Conservation and Enjoyment of Wild Plants. Specific relevant parts include:
• Only take foliage and flowers from large parts of the plant. 
• Always forage in moderation so that lots is left for others to enjoy.
• Do not cause damage to surrounding vegetation 

The trees and plants are the property of the landowner and removal without their permission is technically theft under the Theft Act, 1968. This also includes other materials lying on the ground and firewood. There are some differences when on Common Land.

Trapping

The only legal trapping you are likely to be doing in the UK under the subject of bushcraft and survival is snaring. The use of live catching, such as, cages and spring traps are restricted further. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 also places further restrictions on the use of snares. 

There are offences for snaring certain wild species under Schedule 6 of the Act. For example, Deers are protected under the Deer Act 1991. It is also an offence to not check a snare under the Protection of Animals Act 1911. Under all circumstances, you should obtain the landowner's permission and follow the guidelines set out by Defra at http://www.defra.gov.uk/.

Quick side note: Permission does not override the law. Even if the landowner has given to permission to “do what you like” you still have to abide by the relevant legal legislation, such as not removing protected plants or trapping animals using deadfall traps.

There are many opportunities to practise bushcraft in the UK

There is nothing stopping you from going out today! It is easy to head out on some public rights of way, foraging wild foods, identifying animal tracks or honing your navigation and tree identification skills. Chances are there is some open access land close-by where you can roam freely and even camp. Look for campsites that permit fires or Scotland for a more complete wild camping experience. It is definitely worth spending some time getting to know landowners, and before you know it, you could have your own little bushcraft haven where you can master your camping and woodcraft skills in more depth.

 

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