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General Path Information

Paths are the key to managing access in Orkney. The majority of land in Orkney is enclosed farmland, with extensive barbed wire or electric fencing which does not facilitate public access. Coupled with this is the high density of livestock, particularly cattle, which also makes access to many areas difficult. Farmers have valid concerns about public access through fields with livestock, especially if visitors have dogs.

While the Land Reform Scotland Act 2003 gives a right of responsible access to enclosed land, both access users and farmers would prefer to see marked routes developed which avoid fields with livestock, or other sensitive areas.

A number of access opportunities already exist in Orkney, including paths promoted by the Council, paths managed under Land Management Contracts and approximately 150 public rights of way.

Land Management Contract (LMC) Paths

Many farmers in Orkney have taken up the Access Option in their Land Management Contract. This means that they have identified a path on their land which they will be paid to signpost and maintain for 5 years.

Public Rights of Way

Most public rights of way have their roots deep in the past, often dating back to the days before the country was covered by a network of roads maintained by local authorities. Some were originally ‘drove roads’ for driving cattle to market, or ‘kirk’ roads for getting to church, or the road to the mill. All of them have their origin in the need to get from one public place to another. Today public rights of way are most often used for recreational access.

The essential requirements for a route to be classified as a public right of way are:

  • The route must run from one public place to another.
  • The route must follow a more or less defined line.
  • The route must have been used openly and peaceably by the public otherwise than with the permission of the landowner.
  • It must have been so used without substantial and effective interruption for a period of 20 years or more.

Planning authorities have a duty under the 1967 Wildlife and Countryside Act 1967 to ‘assert, protect and keep open and free from obstruction any public right of way in their area.’

Members of the public can report the closure or blockage of a public right of way to the local authority. Information about rights of way can be found in the ‘National Catalogue of Rights of Way’ produced by the Scottish Rights of Way and Access Society (Scotways). About 150 routes in Orkney are recorded in this document, a copy of which can be viewed at the Council offices.

Further Information

For help with rights of way issues or for further information about paths contact:

Erica Hume Niven, Rural Planner, Development and Marine Planning, Orkney Islands Council.

Telephone 01856873535 extension 2541 or by e-mail

If you wish to report or discuss a maintenance issue with a path please contact:

Ian Wilkins, Roads Services Technician, Asset Management and Countryside Access, Orkney Islands Council.

Telephone: 01856873535 extension 2324 or e-mail.


24 Annandale Street, Edinburgh, EH7 4AN.

Telephone: 01315581222.

More information is available on the Scotways website, available from the 'Related Sites' section of this page.

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