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Shooting near roads and ways

It can be intimidating to come across shooting activities near a road, footpath, or right of way but shooting is currently a legal activity and can legally take place in locations where the public have a right of access.

  • There are laws governing shooting though, and it is a shoot manager’s legal responsibility to ensure that the shoot and its employees comply with the law.

Laws relevant to shooting near roads and ways come under the Highways Act 1980 (and its amendments) which applies 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. 

(Also see Protectors page > Firearms and the Law)

Yes. In England & Wales using a firearm near a highway is permitted. A ‘highway’ is a defined route over which the public has a right of access.

All highways must be kept open and available for public use at all times. The term includes both public roads and public rights of way. Public roads can be used by anybody, whereas use of a public right of way is limited by its status.

A private right of way (or ‘easement’) is not subject to the same terms of use as a public highway.

Note though, that while it is not an offence to shoot across a public highway it may amount to common law nuisance (a civil wrong) or intimidation or harassment (a criminal offence), according to the circumstances.

  • It is an offence, however, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to discharge any firearm within fifty feet of the centre of a highway/carriageway if in consequence (ie if the result is that) a user of the carriageway is injured, interrupted or endangered (by noise, perhaps, or falling shot or dead birds).

There are no legal requirements in respect of shooting on or near a footpath, and there is no legal  minimum distance in relation to shooting near to a footpath. A person with the shooting/sporting rights to land crossed by a footpath may shoot on or over that footpath.

However, 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.

  • 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.

 

Legal advice offered on a shooting website suggests that, “if the footpath is popular, it would be best to avoid shooting near the path, not only from a health and safety perspective, but also with public perception in mind. Any sort of confrontation with a member of the public should be avoided if possible.”

The same writer also suggests leaving a shoot spokesperson at either end of the path to talk with walkers and to assess whether the shoot needs to be halted immediately or whether the member of the public may be content to wait and watch: presumably that means ‘watch shooters fill birds with lead’. Whether an individual may be content to watch that happen or insist on using the footpath stopping the shoot (albeit temporarily) would be their decision. Note in this instance, though, the expectation would be that the ‘walker’ would use the path then keep walking, as (technically, and assuming the shoot has permission to be on the land) they have the right to continue shooting.

Rights of way fall into two categories: Public rights of way and Private rights of way.

  • Shooting may legally take place near both of them. However, 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 dangerand be aware of anyone using them.
 
  • 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, a criminal offence (if someone strays from a right of way onto private land without disrupting a legal activity then a civil trespass would apply).
 

While there is no specific legislation, continuing to shoot 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.

A right of way normally fulfils the following four criteria:

  • It must join two public places (e.g. public roads or other rights of way);
  • It follows a more or less defined route;
  • It has been used, openly and peaceably, by the general public, as a matter of right, i.e. not just with the permission of the landowner);
  • It has been used without substantial interruption for at least twenty years.

 

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 wayover 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.

 

Permissive paths

  • 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. Use may be restricted to daylight hours, they may be moved or closed at certain times, and dogs banned from them.

Shoot managers work for large estates, land owners or for syndicate groups or private shoots, organising shoot days or weekends.

They organise the beaters, loaders, dogs, arrange the hunt lodge, catering for the day, other accommodation as required and liaise with the gamekeepers and associated staff.

They are also responsible for health and safety, must have knowledge of shoot licencing laws, and may also have a role in training and coaching. 

They may also take on the duties of a gamekeeper.  

Whether we like it or not (and we don’t) as long as no laws are being broken and shooters have the landowner’s permission to be on the site, shooting some species of birds and mammals is currently a lawful activity and disrupting a lawful activity carries risk of committing an offence.

Assuming no violence or criminal damage takes place (when the police will always be called by a shoot manager), this would usually be trespass or aggravated trespass.

  • Trespass is a civil offence and it is up to the landowner on whose land there has been an incursion to decide on what action to take.
  • On private land (and shooting almost always takes place on private land) trespass becomes a criminal offence of aggravated trespass the moment somebody tries to prevent another person pursuing a lawful activity. Again it is up to the landowner on whose land there has been an incursion to decide on what action to take.

Wildlife crime is defined as any action which contravenes current legislation governing the protection of the UK’s wild flora and fauna, including species traded in the UK.

Note that wildlife crime does NOT include:

  • Incidents involving domestic or companion animals such as dogs (other than dogs being used to hunt mammals), cats, rabbits, domesticated birds, etc.
  • Wild animals that have been involved (killed or injured etc) in road traffic accidents.

Road accidents with wild animals do not need to be reported to the police, but note that domestic animals (as well as goats, horses, cattle, asses, mules, sheep and pigs) come within the remit of the Road Traffic Act.
If you have a road accident involving these animals you are required by law to report it to the police. If the wild animal is so badly injured in a road accident that there is no chance of recovery or the animal can not be returned to the wild then he or she may be euthanised, providing there is no appropriate long-term captive or semi-captive accommodation or when treatment would involve undue suffering or distress.

If we come across a wildlife crime scene or a dead bird/object that may be related to a wildlife crime every piece of information is – or might be – important, but it needs to be recorded properly and accurately for the authorities to have a chance of prosecuting an offender.

  • Before we do anything else it is very important that we do NOT approach anyone we suspect of committing a crime – they may be violent and/or aggressive. This is especially true of badger baiters and hare coursers who are typically extremely violent. This must be a first priority!
 
What do we need to record?
  • What we can see happening – what sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved, could we or the public be in danger?
  • The exact location. Most smartphones have map apps or download the free What3Words app. If in open countryside look for obvious landmarks or fence lines, a tall or isolated tree, a wind turbine, any streams or brooks etc. Think about what would you need to re find a remote location.
  • It is important to record if at all possible whether we are on or near public land as this will determine the type of police response.
  • Never put ourselves in danger, but can we see who is involved and what they look like (e.g. number of people, their gender(s), age(s), the clothing worn, tools being carried)? Can we hear them – if so what are they saying, are they using any names etc?
  • If any dogs are involved how many are there, what colour are they, do we know what breed they are (even information like ‘terriers’ or ‘lurcher-types’ can be very useful).
  • The make, colour and registration number of any vehicle (we can take photos of a car if we think it is being used or might be used to commit a crime). Does it have any obvious dents, branding or markings, spotlights, bullbars etc.

 

DO and DO NOT

  • Do NOT disturb the scene by walking around unnecessarily – small pieces of evidence (cigarette ends, footprints, the marks left by a spade etc) may be lost or trampled into the mud or grass.
  • If photographing an object do try to use eg a coin or a notebook/field guide for scale – providing it won’t disturb the crime scene.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. DO NOT mark a site with eg a white plastic bag though. Being able to see a marker from a distance might sound like a good idea, but it will also alert an offender that someone has been at the site: they may go back and remove the evidence.
  • Do NOT move any items at the scene – the exception being if they are likely to disappear before the police arrive when we can collect them as evidence.
  • Do NOT touch any dead birds or animals with bare hands. They may be poisoned baits or victims of poisoning. Many poisons (eg Carbofuran) are extremely dangerous in even very small amounts and can be absorbed through the skin.
  • Do NOT do anything illegal ourselves – that might mean our evidence is not admissible.
 If we see a wildlife crime taking place (or someone is at risk of getting injured or is being threatened) call 999 immediately.
They will want to know what we can see happening:
  • What sort of crime is being committed
  • Are any firearms involved
  • Could we or the public be in danger
  • Do we have photos or video footage which may be used as evidence
  • Tell whoever you REPORT the crime to exactly what you have RECORDED as described in the section above.
 
To report a historic crime – that is, a crime that is no longer taking place – use 101 or a local organisation instead.
  • If calling the police ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer and make sure to get an Incident Report number.
  • Please always follow any advice given and – if they are not available – insist that a Wildlife Crime Officer is made aware of your report.
  •  Our options are wider if the event is over, and it may be preferable to talk first to a charity or NGO to get advice. Crimestoppers (an independent charity) can be contacted in complete confidence on 0800 555 111
  • When thinking about reporting a crime it’s worth noting that only the police have statutory powers to make an arrest. RSPCA and RSPB investigation officers work with the police for successful prosecutions.
 
Reporting a wildlife crime (or even a suspected wildlife crime) is important for two reasons.
  • If the event is still happening it may enable the authorities to catch the criminals ‘in the act’ (which means a higher chance of prosecution),
  • and if the event is over a report can still help to build up a more accurate picture of what might be happening in a specific location or across the country as a whole.
Our help is always welcomed
  • Whoever we decide to contact we have been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is a crime we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!
  • Even if we’re not sure about what we’re seeing, we can take a photograph and email it to the police or an investigations officer – they are trained to quickly recognise for example when a snare is illegally placed, whether a trap is being used illegally, or whether a crime is being committed or not.
  • We may help stop or solve future crimes by helping build up a pattern of behaviour in an area.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault, or what we should do if we’re arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in over thirty simple, mobile-friendly pages just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

Have you ever wondered what UK law says about hunting with dogs, shooting, or collecting bird eggs? Or what protection foxes, badgers, bats, and birds of prey have? Whether a gamekeeper is using a snare, spring trap, or a cage trap legally? Wanted to know more about operating drones, using airguns, or driving quad bikes legally? What the different forms of trespass are, what constitutes assault or harassment, or what we should do if we’re stopped and searched or even arrested?

And have you ever been unimpressed with having to search hunting and shooting websites to find some of the information you need?

Us too! Which is why we have developed ‘Protectors of the Wild‘ and laid out the information we need in forty-one simple, mobile-friendly pages and over 500 FAQs just like this one.

Protectors of the Wild‘ is a free resource with two aims: to help us all become ‘eyes in the field’ by learning how to recognise, record, and report wildlife crime and wildlife persecution; and to provide a ‘quick guide’ to anyone interacting with hunts, hunt supporters, or the police.

After all, the more we know, the more any potential criminal will have to be looking over their shoulder wondering if we know enough to Recognise, Record, and Report what they’re up to, and the more we know our rights the better we can protect ourselves.

And the more we can all do to help protect the wild.

The National Wildlife Crime Unit currently has seven priority offences for wildlife crime.

Badger persecution

It is illegal to interfere with or block a badger’s home or ‘sett’. Badger baiting is a centuries-old now illegal blood sport, where small dogs such as terriers or lurchers seek badgers out of their setts before fighting and killing them.

Bat persecution

Bats and their homes are legally protected, so disturbing or removing them is an offence. If bats roost in your roof, you need to obtain a special ‘bat mitigation licence’ from Natural England to be allowed to disturb them. They are hugely important to our ecosystem.

Trade of endangered species

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) sets out which endangered animals and plants have protected status. It is illegal to remove any of them from their natural habitat, possess, or sell them. Currently, the top priorities are European eels, birds of prey, ivory, medicinal and health products, reptiles, rhino horns, and timber.

Freshwater pearl mussel offences

These Endangered mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) are only found in rivers in Scotland and small parts of England. They can live for more than 130 years but are extremely sensitive to water pollution and have been illegally farmed for years. It is illegal to damage or destroy their habitat or to take, injure or kill them.

Poaching

Fox, deer, and hare hunting are all illegal under the Hunting Act 2004. Poaching offences also cover illegal fishing – when anglers do not obtain a licence or remove protected fish from lakes and rivers without returning them.

Raptor persecution

Birds of prey are often targeted on shooting estates. Their eggs are also traded illegally. It is an offence to target, poison, or kill them, with a particular focus on Golden Sagles, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Peregrines, Red Kites, and White-tailed Eagles. Disturbing or taking their eggs or chicks is also illegal.

Cyber-enabled wildlife crime

Social media is often used to promote wildlife crime and recruit people to take part in it. Endangered plants and animals are also traded illegally online.

  • Punishment must fit the crime. Conditional discharges and paltry fines are not a disincentive for criminals.

A common complaint is that even if wildlife criminals are brought to court the fines or sentences they get are pathetic and not a disincentive. In most cases judges are giving out the penalties they are allowed to under the law. Changes can be made though. In 2022 the maximum sentence for ‘causing uneccesary suffering’ went from six months to five years. That was the result of targeted public pressure and campaigning. We need to identify where changes should be made and push hard for them.

 

  • Wildlife crime must be notifiable and statistics accurately compiled so that resources can be properly targeted.

Police forces are required by law to inform the Home Office of any notifiable offences, which then uses the reports to compile the crime statistics known as ‘recorded crime’. Currently, wildlife crimes are not ‘notifiable’ though (and wildlife crime involving firearms are also not recorded as firearms offences by the Police).  Without them being notifiable, no one knows how many wildlife crimes are being committed across the UK and where the hotspots are (though ‘grouse moors’ is one obvious response). As we have stated many times on this website, law and legislative enforcement is hugely underfunded and under-resourced. Some of this has undoubtedly been through political choice, but if we at least know which crimes are being committed and where, the resources that are available can be placed where they are needed most.

 

  • There must be changes to make it far easier for all of us to play our part in ‘Recognising, Reporting, Recording’ wildlife cime.

As even a quick glance at the Protectors pages makes clear, laws protecting wildlife are hard to understand. Major pieces of legislation like the Hunting Act 2004  and other laws are riddled with exemptions which strongly favour the hunting, shooting, and agricultural industries. Some date from a century or more ago and don’t reflect the modern world. These need to be updated. While there has undoubtedly been efforts made by successive governmants to use ‘plain english’ to explain legislation, any government wanting to tackle wildlife crime needs to make understanding what is and what isn’t a crime far more easily understood and put resources into a reporting system that the public feel confident using. Crucially, the public need to be sure that if they do report a crime it will be acted upon.

 

  • We have to protect the environment and wildlife properly.

Laws protecting wildlife and the environment need to be revised to reflect the 21st century and the biodiversity and climate crises we are in. Animals (and plants) are not an add-on or a ‘nice to have’ – they have shaped the systems that life depends on, and our laws need to reflect how critically important they are.

 

If you’d like to support just one legislative change, Protect the Wild has launched ‘The Hunting of Mammals Bill: A Proper Ban on Hunting‘ – please sign our petition calling for a proper ban on hunting with dogs.

We would like Protectors of the Wild to be the ‘go to’ free resource, packed with the kind of information that really does help all of us become ‘eyes in the field. But we can’t possibly think of every question that might need answering or every situation someone might find themselves in! And while the information in these pages is largely taken from Government online advice and was compiled in 2023 (and constantlyy updated), perhaps we’ve missed something out.

If you could provide us with legal advice get in touch. Or if you find a mistake or a gap please let us know. That way we can continually improve Protectors of the Wild – for the benefit of animals and all of us. Thanks.

‘Protectors of the Wild’ is a project of Protect the Wild. We have a dedicated email address for anyone wishing to get in touch with a specific Protectors query or with additional information etc. Please use the form on our Contact Protectors page or email protectors@protectthewild.org.uk. Thank you.

Much of the information we give in these pages is very technical or to do with legislation which can be revised without much notice. While we have worked very hard on these pages and we take keeping our information accurate and up-to-date very seriously, Protect the Wild are not legal professionals. Just to make sure no-one thinks we’re offering professional legal advice, we feel obliged to include the following disclaimer on every page.

  • Please think of the ‘Protectors of the Wild’ pages as a ‘first stop’ before seeking legal advice. We provide detailed information but not professional advice. The information provided by Protect the Wild should NOT be considered or relied on as legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Any of the material on our website may be out of date at any given time, and we are under no legal obligation to update such material. While we update and revise as often as we can, Protect the Wild assumes no responsibility for the accuracy and correctness of any information, or for any consequences of relying on it. Please do not act or refrain from acting upon this information without seeking professional legal advice.