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Outdoor Recreation: Right of Access

State of the Environment Norway

Filed 17 Jan 04

1. State: What does the right of access mean in practice?

2. Pressure: Threats to the right of access

3. Response: Efforts to safeguard the right of access

Everyone in Norway has a right of access to and passage through uncultivated land in the countryside, regardless of who owns it. This is of course of fundamental importance for traditional types of outdoor activities. It gives everyone the right to walk in the mountains and forests, go skiing in winter, and cycle, toboggan and ride on paths and tracks.

The right of access to uncultivated land is set out in the Outdoor Recreation Act, and is based on respect for the environment, landowners and other users. The right of free access and passage applies to uncultivated land, but also to cultivated land when it is frozen and snow-covered. Uncultivated land includes most areas of water, beach, bog, forest and mountain in Norway. Cultivated land includes fields of crops, hay meadows, cultivated pasture, gardens and young plantations. It also includes farmyards, plots around houses and cabins, and industrial areas. The right of access does not apply if you are using a motor vehicle.

What does the right of access mean in practice?

On uncultivated land, you may go anywhere you like on foot or on skis and picnic wherever you want. You may also put up a tent for the night - or sleep under the stars - but you must keep at least 150 m away from the nearest house or cabin. If you want to stay for more than two nights in the same place, you must ask the landowner's permission, except in the mountains or very remote areas.

The right of access also involves responsibilities. You must show consideration and care, so that you do not cause any damage or inconvenience to the landowner or other users. You must also respect the countryside: make sure you take everything with you, including your rubbish, and never leave an unsightly camp site behind you. Open fires are not permitted in or near forested areas in the period 15 April to 15 September, and we ask you to respect this. Take care not to cause any damage if you light a fire at other times of year. In general, you may pick berries, mushrooms and flowers, but special rules apply to cloudberries in the three northernmost counties. Wherever you go, act considerately and do not damage or disturb livestock, the environment or wildlife unnecessarily.

In 1995, a survey of how much Norwegians know about the right of access to the countryside found large difference between age groups. Among older adults (40 - 64 years) 75 per cent answered that they knew something about their rights and responsibilities. In the age group 15 - 24 years, the figure was only 40 per cent.

Threats to the right of access

Public access to the countryside is being threatened by commercial developments and privatisation. In some places, fences and other barriers are put up even where they are not permitted under the Outdoor Recreation Act. Piecemeal developments along the coast, particularly in the Oslofjord and in popular areas of Southern Norway have gradually reduced public access to the shoreline. As a general rule, building and partitioning of property is prohibited in the 100 m zone closest to the sea, but local authorities have made liberal use of opportunities to grant exemptions from this rule in many areas. Permanent housing and holiday cabins have been built along more and more stretches of the coast that were once attractive recreation areas.

With so much building and development along the shoreline, long stretches of shore and beach have become private. This type of privatisation in this way may be legal in some cases, but in many others it is not. Privatisation is generally illegal if the main aim is to keep the public away from areas where they have a legal right to access or passage.

Efforts to safeguard the right of access

The Government will intensify its efforts to safeguard the right of access to the coast and beaches. These include setting aside areas for outdoor recreation areas and coastal parks, either by means of public funding or through agreements between the authorities and landowners. Local authorities will receive a circular asking them to follow a more restrictive practice when they receive applications for exemptions from the prohibition against building less than 100 m from the shoreline. The Government also proposes to extend the scope of the National Policy Guidelines for planning in coastal and marine areas of the Oslofjord region, so that they cover the coastline all the way round to Rogaland county. National policy guidelines may also be drawn up for other important stretches of coast.

Local authorities can suspend ongoing construction in violation of the Outdoor Recreation Act, § 13. Structures, barriers or other installations that have been partly or wholly erected in contravention of prohibitions or orders issued in or pursuant to the Outdoor Recreation Act, can be removed at the expense of the person responsible (§ 40).