The trouble with accessing the countryside in Northern Ireland: a comparison with Great Britain

Linda Price, Mark Simpson

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The twenty-first century has seen a shift in emphasis from enabling local authorities to provide opportunities for recreation on private land to the conferment of a general right to access certain types of land in Great Britain. Similar liberalisation has not occurred in Northern Ireland. This article examines features of the Northern Ireland context that might explain why landowners’ rights continue to trump those of recreational users, drawing on stakeholder interviews and a rural geography conceptual framework. Following historic struggles for land in Ireland, any erosion of owner control is perceived to undermine hard-won rights; in a relatively rural society and agrarian economy, farmers are readily accepted as having the ‘right’ to determine the function of rural land; and recent conflict has depressed outdoor leisure and tourism. Consequently, productive uses of land remain central to rural policy and a countryside movement able to overcome objections to liberalisation has not emerged. Conflict and instability have also left a legacy of social problems and ‘legislative lag’ in higher priority areas that must be addressed before countryside access can move up the political agenda. The article reveals how, in stakeholders’ eyes, these factors combine to limit the prospects of reform.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-200
Number of pages18
JournalEnvironmental Law Review
Issue number3
Early online date6 Sept 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 6 Sept 2017


  • Environmental law
  • Access to the countryside
  • Right to roam
  • Devolution
  • Outdoor recreation
  • Access rights
  • National parks


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