It can be intimidating to come across shooting activities near a footpath or road, but it’s important to note that shooting is a legal activity and can legally take place in locations where the public have a right of access. There are laws governing shooting at such locations, and it is a shoot manager’s legal responsibility to ensure that the shoot and its employees comply with the law.
Anyone taking part in any shooting activity should recognise that users of public rights of way have the right to pass and repass without hindrance or being put in danger and be aware of anyone using them.
However it is important to understand that using a right of way to disrupt a legal shoot or intimidate or obstruct shooters who are acting legally is considered to be aggravated trespass, which is a a criminal offence. Note that if someone strays from a right of way onto private land without disrupting a legal activity then a civil trespass would apply.
Laws relevant to shooting near roads and ways come under the Highways Act 1980 (and its amendments). Note that the guidelines below are relevant only to England and Wales. The Highways Act does not apply in Scotland but Procurators Fiscal may use common law offences of ‘culpable and reckless conduct’ and ‘reckless endangerment’ in situations in which the 1980 Act would be contravened in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, Section 61 of the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 makes it an offence for a person to discharge any firearm on any public road, or within 18 metres of the centre of any public road, or in any church, churchyard or burial ground.
Rights of way
Rights of way fall into two categories and several sub-sets: Public rights of way and Private rights of way. Shooting may legally take place near all of them.
Public rights of way
There are several types of public right of way.
- Highways, for the purposes of Section 161 (2) of the Highways Act 1980 (as amended), are a public right of way for the passage of vehicles and does not include footpaths, cycle tracks or bridleways.
- Carriageways are a way over which the public have a right of way by foot, on horseback or with vehicles.
- Bridleways are a way over which the public has a right of way on foot, on horseback or leading a horse. There is also a right to use a pedal cycle on a bridleway providing the cyclist gives way to pedestrians and riders.
- Footpaths are a way over which the public have a right of way on foot only.
Private rights of way
- A private right of way enables a landowner to access his own land via someone else’s, and is a way where public access is restricted.
(A ‘permissive path’ is a path or track that is not a public right of way. The public has no statutory right to use them and they are not covered by rights of way legislation. Their use may be restricted to daylight hours, ban dogs, or moved or closed at certain times.)
Shooting near highways (roads and carriageways)
In England & Wales using a firearm near a highway is not prohibited – but it is an offence without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to discharge any firearm within fifty feet of the centre of a highway/carriageway IF in consequence a user of the carriageway is injured, interrupted or endangered.
Shooting near footpaths and bridleways
A person with the shooting/sporting rights to land crossed by a footpath may shoot on or over that footpath.
In law the public and the shooter have equal rights to the footpath, and it is the responsibility of both parties to not obstruct the other.
While there is no specific legislation, shooting when a right of way is being used by a member of the public could be interpreted as a common law nuisance, wilful obstruction or a breach of Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974. There may also be a liability in negligence if it is known that people are on, or likely to be on, the path. (To pursue any claim against a shooter a user of a footpath would need to prove that there was an injury, or that their passage was interrupted or interfered with e.g. they were forced to make a detour.)
However a shooter may only shoot over a footpath if they have permission to drop shot over the land on the other side. Firing a bullet or shot onto land without permission amounts to constructive trespass, a civil matter.
If someone shoots from a path which is crossing somebody else’s land without permission or without a reasonable excuse to do so it is taken to be armed trespass, which is a criminal offence.
Page updated April 2014.
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