Access to commonage and uplands has been brought into sharp focus by the recent survey carried out by the Irish Natura and Hill Farmers Association (INHFA).

The survey highlighted the vulnerable position of landowners when it comes to dealing with members of the public seeking to access their lands.

So what is expected of the public when entering onto commonage ground and upland areas?

Access to commonage and uplands is informed by the Leave No Trace Ireland initiative which dates from 2008 and seeks to promote a code of practice for recreational users of these lands.

The Leave No Trace approach has influenced codes of practice for walking groups and other recreational users of the countryside for the past 14 years.

Countryside codes

These ‘countryside codes’ usually include some standard recommendations for walkers regarding interactions with farmers and the business of farming. For example, they generally advise those coming on to lands:

  • To respect private property, farmland and all rural environments.
  • To respect the people who live and work in the countryside.
  • Not to interfere with livestock, machinery and crops.
  • To leave all gates as they find them and not to interfere with or damage any gates, fences, walls or hedges.
  • Not to enter farmland with dogs, even on a leash, unless with the permission of the landowner.
  • To guard against all risks of fire, especially near forests.
  • To use the approved routes when walking and keep as closely as possible to them.
  • Although the Leave No Trace initiative was formulated by Comhairle na Tuaithe – which includes representatives from farming organisations, recreational users of the countryside and State bodies – the difficulties highlighted in the INHFA survey have raised questions around its effectiveness and whether it is still fit for purpose.

    INHFA vice-president Pheilim Molloy expressed concern that a sizeable minority of the landowners included in the survey have been abused and felt threatened by people coming on to their properties.


    People coming on to lands with dogs was a continuing problem. However, the difficulties encountered by landowners have changed and evolved in recent years.

    The survey highlighted problems of people accessing commonage ground and upland areas with scrambler bikes, quads and all-terrain 4x4s. Hunting with high-powered rifles and issues around wild camping have also become more prevalent, Molloy explained.

    The INHFA survey will ultimately inform a policy paper on public access to farmed lands. Its findings have already illustrated the extent to which the parameters of this discussion have changed.