17 June 2018

Caves on access land

The Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000 set into law public rights of access to the countryside.

As most cavers will now know, there is a difference in opinion as to whether this covers caving as an activity. Natural England / DEFRA have said that they do not consider caving to be covered by CRoW. The British Caving Association, spurred on by the opinion of an eminent lawyer (Dinah Rose QC) and with the support of its members (and the CNCC) is campaigning at a national level for this opinion to be changed.

The BCA has taken a progressive approach by issuing a policy claiming that caving is already covered by CRoW.

Most of the caves in our area are on access land. So what does this mean?

While the impasse exists between the government bodies and the caving community, many landowners (particularly the larger estates with current permit systems) have indicated that they are not yet willing to grant completely open access to the caves on their land. In these situations, the CNCC has remained clear that we cannot control access to caves. Instead, we aim to facilitate access by providing a compromise solution which maintains good relations with the landowner while also providing the most flexible access possible for cavers.

The online booking system (currently being tested on Ingleborough Estate and hopefully Leck and Casterton soon) is one example of a compromise solution to access land caves. This addresses the landowners wish for managed cave access while providing much greater flexibility to cavers than the former permit system.

So what about other caves on access land, specifically those where we have no information about landowner requirements? Do you need to seek out permission?

In the past the CNCC has often taken the cautious stance that permission should always be sought. This stance existed from the early days of the CNCC and was very much 'of the time' and of course predated the CRoW Act. However, in light of the ongoing campaign to have caving recognised under CRoW, and the progressive new BCA policy, the CNCC feels that our historic stance is no longer appropriate.

The CNCC now takes a more progressive stance by assuming that permission for access land caves need not be sought unless we know otherwise.

Therefore, throughout our website, the CNCC has used the recognisable ‘access land’ symbol (with or without a strikethrough) to indicate whether a cave entrance is, or is not located on access land. Click here for more information.

Where we are aware of any restrictions or requirements for access land caves these will be presented.

Presenting cavers with this information will make it much easier to understand whether permission needs to be sought for caves all across our region (even in some of the more remote and less well visited areas).

Of course, not every situation is clear-cut. A cave entrance may be on access land, but the route of approach may not be. Common sense and a little research with a map is always recommended. Calling in at a nearby farm to ask permission before crossing their non-access land can help avoid many issues. We urge cavers to continue to be respectful to landowners who refuse or make specific requests on access and to report this to the CNCC who can investigate on behalf of the caving community.


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