Access and permission to ring in Scotland

Following discussion at Ringing Committee (17 October 2015) the decision was made to change the rules regarding access to land and ringing in Scotland (Ringers’ Manual 5.1, page 93). Until now the rules for England, Wales and Scotland stated that ringers must obtain permission to ring on land, regardless of whether access was lawful under the relevant access legislation for the area.

Access to land in Scotland is governed by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This act gives the public statutory access rights to most land and inland water, provided that these rights are exercised responsibly by respecting people’s privacy, safety and livelihoods, and Scotland’s environment. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) provides further guidance on what constitutes responsible behaviour in respect of the Act; however it should be noted that this is guidance and not the letter of the law. Access rights extend to individuals undertaking surveys of the natural and cultural heritage, where these surveys have a recreational or educational purpose. BTO considers that ringing activities constitute 'surveys of natural heritage' with an educational purpose.

BTO Rules – Ringing and access in Scotland

Access to the land on which you are ringing must always be lawful, as set out above. Ringers should familiarise themselves with the SOAC, which provides guidance on the legal right of access to land in Scotland. Ringers should note that the SOAC does make reference to ‘equipment’ and should thus consider situations in which the installation of equipment to catch birds is required and also the ringing of pulli and other situations where the installation of equipment to catch birds is not required. The BTO advise ringers to contact the landowner/manager wherever practical and reasonable and to explain what you intend to do and why. The SOAC guidance says that this should be done if surveys are repeated or intensive.

Relevant Information

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003

This was an Act of the Scottish Parliament to establish statutory public rights of access to land for recreational and other purposes, and to extend some of the provisions for that purpose to rights of way and other rights. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code provides detailed guidance on rights and responsibilities under this Act.  The Code provides a practical guide to help everyone make informed decisions about what best to do in everyday situations, and provides the starting point for short promotional codes and more detailed advice about land and inland water. SOAC was approved by the Scottish Parliament on 1 July 2004.

Ringers in Scotland should familiarise themselves with the code, but the following sections are particularly relevant.

Access rights can be exercised for:

Section 2.7 Recreational purposes.

SOAC takes it to include pastimes, family and social activities, active pursuits and participation in events (all have examples in the SOAC).

Section 2.8 Educational activities

“People carrying out field surveys of the natural or cultural heritage, such as of birds or plants, as a recreational activity or for educational purposes, are covered by access rights (see paragraph 3.64).”

Section 3.64 Undertaking surveys

“Access rights extend to individuals undertaking surveys of the natural or cultural heritage where these surveys have a recreational or educational purpose within the meaning of the legislation. A small survey done by a few individuals is unlikely to cause any problems or concerns, provided that people living or working nearby are not alarmed by your presence. If you are organising a survey which is intensive over a small area or requires frequent repeat visits, or a survey that will require observation over a few days in the same place, consult the relevant land manager(s) about any concerns they might have and tell them about what you are surveying, for what purpose and for how long. If the survey requires any equipment or instruments to be installed, seek the permission of the relevant land managers.”

Information on land access can be found at the following sources:

Land Reform Act 2003 (Scotland), with guidance as per the Scottish Outdoor Access Code: see 3.64 ‘Undertaking surveys’.

See also ‘Best practice guidance for ecological survey work in the Scottish uplands’ (PDF).

Ringers in Scotland should carry out their activities noting the legislation and guidance above, ensuring that access to land is lawful. The BTO advise that ringers should seek to contact the landowner/manager wherever practical and reasonable in order to explain what they intend to do and why.