Most of Britain’s shores and coastal waters can be freely used by anyone for any normal form of recreation. There are some exceptions, however. Though the foreshore is nearly always open to the public, the beach above it may be privately owned and closed to the public. In certain areas even the foreshore may be closed for special reasons. And though beachcombing can be fun, removing objects from the beach may in some cases be against the law.


Where does the land end?

The land ends, according I. to the law, where the sea starts at low water on the lowest ebb of the tide. Land that can be privately owned usually ends at the average high-water line. The area in between is known as the foreshore. Most of Britain’s foreshore belongs to the Crown, which hands it to local councils or port authorities to manage; and normally the public has the right to walk on it. Even a private landowner whose property runs down to the high-water line cannot keep the public off the foreshore.

When is the foreshore private?

Some stretches of foreshore are owned by government departments – for example, by the Ministry of Defence for use as a firing range. A government department is entitled to prohibit the public from going on to its beach andHo prevent boats from landing there.

Other stretches of foreshore may be owned privately – as for example where quarrying takes place on or near the shore and piers run into the sea. Some stretches of foreshore have been leased for private use, mainly by holiday companies and the National Trust. An owner or tenant of such a private beach is generally entitled to exclude the public, or charge a fee for entrance. Such areas are usually clearly marked,

What laws apply on the foreshore?

Most of the laws of our country remain in force as far as the outer edge of our territorial waters. These extend 3 nautical miles (3.4 land miles) from low-water level. They also include any estuary or bay less than 24 nautical miles (27.2 land miles) wide, and water between the mainland and islands.

Local authorities may, however, make their own bye-laws regulating the use of a beach for up to 1,000 metres out to sea from low-water level. For instance, swimming areas may be restricted, either for the swimmers’ own safety or to safeguard a nature reserve; or a stretch of beach may be closed because of a rock fall.

Local councils will be able to tell you if any such laws apply in the areas under their control.

Hozo can I reach the shore?

Although the foreshore itself is open to the public, to get to it you must either use a public right of way – usually a public road or a footpath – or, if you cross private property, have the landowner’s permission to do so.

If a public right of way exists, it can be used even if someone has tried to block it. If a footpath is blocked, you have a right to remove the obstacle.

English and Welsh local councils must keep ‘definitive maps’ showing all public paths in their areas. They are also required to erect signposts at every point where a public footpath leaves a road. Many of these paths on or near the coast are marked by a red dotted line on the. If in doubt, or if you find a path blocked, check at the local council offices.

Often the land adjacent to the coast is publicly owned and open at all times, so that you can cross it freely to reach the shore. But if the land is private, the landowner is entitled to charge you for crossing his land – or to refuse to let you cross. A person attempting to cross land without permission is trespassing and may be removed by force if he refuses to leave when asked to do so.

Anyone may land on the foreshore by boat, and may walk across it to and from his boat, even though public access from the landward side is impossible.

Can I do what I like on the shore?

Traditionally, everyone is allowed to use the foreshore for normal recreational purposes. No council or other authority will stop you from swimming, sunbathing, picnicking or building sandcastles on any beach in Britain, provided you have reached it by a legal route.

Increasingly, however, local authorities lay down bye-laws to control the public use of beaches. Such laws may prevent people from using noisy transistor radios, lighting fires, or playing certain games on parts of the foreshore.

Bye-laws may be used to divide the beach into sections, with different parts set aside for different purposes. For example, part of a beach may be set aside for nude bathing or sunbathing, while elsewhere on the same beach nude bathers might risk prosecution for indecency. Similarly, water-skiers or speedboats may be banned from using certain parts of a beach, and cars and camping may be banned.

What if there is no beach?

In places where the land falls vertically into the sea -as with a steep cliff or a harbour wall – there may be no foreshore even at low tide. In such situations there are no general public rights of use, even for fishing from the harbour wall or a convenient rock.

Where may I park the car?

There are only two situations in which you are legally permitted to park at any time. These are in an authorised car park, and on private land where you have the owner’s permission. In practice you may, in addition, usually leave your car at the roadside in a place where there are no restrictions and where you are not obstructing the highway. But there is no legal right to do this, and you may be prosecuted if you leave your car there for a long period. In all other situations, parking is an offence or a trespass.


Can I take pebbles from the beach?

Anything forming part of /~V the beach or in it is the property of whoever owns that section of beach. Above high water the owner may be a private landowner or a body such as the National Trust; below high-water line it is usually the Crown.

This applies even to rocks, pebbles, shells and sand. In practice nobody will stop you taking small numbers of shells or pebbles, or small quantities of sand or seaweed – but any abuse of this freedom can be stopped. In some areas the local residents have traditional rights to take objects from the beach, as for example coal from parts of the coast of Durham and seaweed from parts of the coast of South Wales. But these are not public rights.


Strict laws have been passed to protect wild birds, endangered animals and plants and their habitats, as well as to protect the natural beauty of the countryside. In some areas these laws may prevent the public visiting certain stretches of coast, or allow them to do so only at certain times and under certain conditions, as in the case of designated nature reserves. In some marine nature reserves special bye-laws prohibit fishing, skin-diving and pleasure boating.

Most wild birds and their eggs are protected, and it is an offence to kill or injure a bird, or to take or destroy its eggs or nest. The only sea-birds not protected are great and lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls. A strict close season for wildfowl shooting extends from February 21 until August 31 each year, the main breeding season.

Some mammals, such as seals, dolphins, porpoises and whales, are protected, in the same way as burbot. Rare plants are protected, and it is illegal even to pick flowers from protected plants. These include sea knotgrass, sea lavender, some of the sandworts and several kinds of orchids. It is an offence intentionally to uproot any wild plant, including seaweed, without authority.

Anyone visiting the coast for recreation should know the rules incorporated in the Country Code. This is designed to safeguard the farmer’s place of work, and to preserve the countryside for others to enjoy. The code says:

– GUARD AGAINST FIRE Carek’SSUCSS may cost thousands of pounds. Do not throw away glass, lighted matches or cigarettes.

– FASTEN ALL GATES A farm animal on a road may cause an accident; in a wrong field it may gorge itself to death.

– KEEP DOGS UNDER CONTROL Tilt’ friendly household pet may prove a killer in the open countryside.

– KEEP TO PUBLIC PATHS Even graSS is a valuable crop, and what looks like grass may be young wheat, oats or barley.

– AVOID DAMAGING FENCES Fences, hedges and xvalls are there for a purpose, and replacing them is expensive.

– LEAVE NO LITTER Take litter home after a picnic.

– SAFEGUARD WATER SUPPLIES Take care not to pollute country streams with rubbish or waste food.

– PROTECT WILDLIFE The countryside is a community of animals, plants and trees – all dependuig on each other for survival. Do not pick or root up flowers or break off branches.


A tractor or a flock of sheep, hidden by a corner, can cause an accident. When walking, keep in single file and face oncoming traffic.


COUNTRYSIDE Enjoy the countryside and respect its life and work. Do not harm animals, farm machinery or property.

Lost or abandoned objects which have become buried in the sand also belong to the landowner. However, valuable objects such as gold, silver, plate or coins which have been deliberately hidden by their owner and never recovered are classified as Treasure Trove and belong to the Crown. Anybody making such a find should report I t to the police. If after inquiry by a Coroner the Crown retains the property, the finder is likely to be rewarded.

Property found on the surface of a beach, rather than buried in it, belongs to the finder only if it has been genuinely lost and if, after proper enquiries have been made, the true owner cannot be found. If you find anything on the beach that appears to be of any value you should hand it to the local police. If the owner does not claim it within a few months, the police will return it to you.

Driftwood and normal debris washed up on the beach can be removed without fear of penalty. However, this does not apply in the case of a wreck or derelict property, which belongs to the Crown or to those granted special rights by the Crown.


Can I fish where I Want?. Sea-fishing by rod and JLIL line is largely unrestricted in Britain, though local bye-laws may limit it in some places – for example, to protect a marine nature reserve or underwater installations or fish farming. There is no close season for sea-fishing, and no ban on night fishing. The only protected species of fish is the burbot.

No licence is necessary for anglers either on shore or in boats using rod and line or similar methods. You may need permission from the landowner before fishing from a jetty or harbour, but you are free to fish on or over the foreshore.


J How are water sports Sc controlled?


Sports such as surfing, windsurfing and water-skiing are subject to control by local councils. This may be enforced, for example, by banning access to the shore where there is no public right of way – for example, to power boats – as well as by bye-laws.

Anybody taking part in these sports should also be insured in case of accidents caused by them to others, as might happen if a swimmer were hit by a water-skier and injured. Personal injury and damage to property caused when taking part in these sports is excluded from normal householder’s insurance policies.

What are the rules about J skin-diving? The sea-bed out to the edge of the territorial sea belongs to the Crown, like the foreshore, and much the same rules apply to it. Diving may be prevented in nature reserves and fish farms. It may also be banned in historic wreck sites. Ask for local advice. Taking fish from nets belonging to others is theft.


Do 1 need a licence?

No licence is required to Xi. sail a boat round the shores of Britain, unless you use it commercially for fishing or for carrying passengers or cargo. Boats used for private recreation do not need licences for private use, nor do their helmsmen or drivers.

Where may J take my J boat?

Everyone has the right to sail where he wishes in tidal waters. This includes the tidal sections of estuaries and rivers, and the waters that cover the foreshore at high water.

There are few limits on this. Boats may be banned from military training areas, and boats used for recreation may be excluded from marine nature reserves. Power boats may be subject to speed limits within 1,000 metres of the shore, usually off busy beaches, and water-skiing may be limited to defined areas of water. Many of the areas where such limits apply are indicated on the. Regulations are usually displayed by the waterside, or can be obtained from local council offices.

Where may I launch, land and moor?

Boats may only be launched from land where there is a public slipway or other public access to the sea for boats. Otherwise the landowner’s permission is needed. An owner, such as a harbour authority providing a public launchway, may charge for its use, if there is no public right to launch a boat there.

Once at sea, boats may be landed anywhere on the foreshore, except in banned areas, and launched again. Bye-laws sometimes limit how close power boats may approach to busy beaches.

Subject to the requirements of good navigation and safety, boats may anchor freely at sea, but in harbour local rules apply. Normally, permission is needed from the harbour-master, and a fee paid. Boats must obey the harbour-master’s instructions while navigating in and near the port.

If an accident occurs through the negligence of anyone owning or using a boat, he will be liable for damages and compensation in the same way as someone responsible for a road accident. Boats and crews should therefore be adequately insured against accidents and liability to others.

You should also check the insurance position when hiring a boat. Is the owner insured against accidents occurring while you are using the vessel? If not, are you insured yourself? If not, the owner could hold you responsible for any accident.

ACCIDENTS AT SEA. What happens when there is an accident at sea?

A When accidents occur, anyone able to do so should inform the coastguard or police as soon as possible. To contact the coastguard in an emergency dial 999 and ask for coastguard. Any vessel able to do so has a duty to help to rescue any person or vessel in distress.

Air-sea rescuers and coastguards make no charges for their duties. But anyone voluntarily rescuing a person or property in real and appreciable danger is entitled to salvage reward. This can technically be claimed by anyone involved in a rescue, including those supplying advice or setting the rescue in motion. If the amount of reward is not agreed, it will be settled by a court, and may normally amount to up to half the value of property saved.

Lifeboat crews, being volunteers, are entitled to claim salvage, but rarely do so. If they do, the RNLI requires the crew to pay for the use of fuel and equipment on the rescue, and for any damage to the lifeboat, as well as forfeiting the small payments received for each trip.