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Background to the Land Reform Act in Scotland

In 1998, Scottish Natural Heritage published the document Access to the Countryside for Open-Air Recreation following a request from Government to review current legislation relating to public access to the countryside. When preparing this advice, SNH consulted the Access Forum.

SNH recommended the creation of a statutory right of responsible access for informal recreation and passage backed up by a Code detailing the rights and responsibilities of owners of land, and of those exercising their access rights.

In July 1999 the Executive issued the White Paper "Land Reform: Proposals for Legislation" for consultation detailing proposals on both access and community right to buy.

In the meantime Scottish Natural Heritage, in conjunction with the Access Forum prepared the draft of a Code to be known as the Scottish Outdoor Access Code.

The draft Land Reform (Scotland) Bill and the draft Scottish Outdoor Access Code, were published by the Executive for consultation on 22 February  2001.

The Bill was introduced into the Scottish Parliament on 27 November 2001 and passed by Parliament on 23 January 2003. It is now known as the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

Part 1 of the Act establishes statutory public rights of access to land and inland water for recreational and other purposes and for crossing land and extends some of the provisions for these purposes to rights of way. Parts 2 and 3 of the Act make provisions under which bodies representing rural and crofting communities may buy the land with which those communities have a connection; and for connected purposes.

Following an extensive consultation on a draft of the Code in 2002 SNH submitted the proposed Code to Ministers for approval in January 2003. The draft Code was then laid before and approved by the Scottish Parliament on July 1 2004.

Part 1 of the Act and the Scottish Outdoor Access Code came into force on February 9, 2005.

The Scottish Government published Guidance for Local Authorities and National Park Authorities on their duties and powers under the Act. This Guidance was issued in February 2005, following a consultation process.

In February 2005 a modification Order under section 8 of the Act, to amend section 7(10) of the Act, was approved by the Scottish Parliament after consultation in order to clarify that access rights apply to forests and woodlands.

Under section 30 of the Act access authorities had to have reviewed any byelaws relating to public access and ensured they are consistent with the Act by February 2007.

In March 2007 Path Orders Regulations were approved by the Scottish Parliament, setting out the form of Path Orders which access authorities use to delineate paths under Section 22 and Schedule 1 of the Act. The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 (Path Orders) Regulations 2007 are now available.

In December 2013 a modification Order under section 8 of the Act, to amend section 7(1) of the Act, was approved by the Scottish Parliament after consultation.  This provides that core paths can be temporarily closed in limited circumstances (i) in the event of an outbreak of animal disease; and (ii) by a section 11 Order.  Revised statutory Guidance for Local Authorities and National Park Authorities accompanies this modification Order.

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2016 received royal assent on 22 April 2016.  Part 9 makes minor amendments and procedural clarifications to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003, on review of core paths plans and service of court applications relating to access rights.