The thoughts and stories of two wandering photogtaphers

The Rules

  1. Break nothing
  2. Take nothing
  3. Leave nothing
  4. If asked, leave immediately

What is UrbEx?

Urban Exploration, which Wikipedia defines as:

... the exploration of manmade structures, usually abandoned ruins or hidden components of the manmade environment. Photography and historical interest/documentation are heavily featured in the hobby and it sometimes involves trespassing onto private property.

Fynbaar and I very much enjoy documenting urban decay and abandoned places. They may not be conventionally picturesque or beautiful, but personally I find myself drawn to them. Not only do I enjoy visiting and photographing these places, but I find myself getting lost in researching there history.

The important thing to remember about many of these places, as the definition above highlights, is that, whilst abandoned or decaying, they are very often privately owned. This means that, by visiting them, you may well be trespassing. In fact, due to the condition of these places, they may well be closed off or boarded up to actively try and prevent people gaining access, usually for safety reasons, but also to prevent vandalism.

Ultimately, people undertaking UrbEx therefore have to consider the place they are going and the impact their visit may have. This activity must be approached respectfully and with a concious intention to 'do no harm'.

We also have to consider the legal ramifications of being found in one of these places if it's privately owned and/or deliberately closed to entry before we set off. If our four rules of UrbEx are followed, the worst offence you can commit is trespass, which in the UK (as of July 2020) is generally a civil offence unless there is a special provision (Ministry of Defence land for example). Whilst a land owner can sue for trespass, it's generally for damages, which means if you 'do no harm' and leave if asked, everything should be OK.

With all this in mind, here are our rules and an explanation of each:

Break Nothing

Should be obvious, but don't break anything while exploring. This doesn't just mean anything you find, but don't break anything whilst trying to gain entry to any part of the location you are visiting. This may ultimately mean that you go to a site, cannot find a means of entry and have to leave; disappointment is a part of UrbEx you just have to accept.

The reasons for this are simple. Firstly, it's extremely rude and disrespectful. Secondly, you will no longer be trespassing. Doing damage to gain access is obviously 'breaking and entering', but if you damage anything else whilst on site then you will be vandalising.

To be clear, we only ever exploit existing entrances, if any, to a site and are careful not to do any damage whilst entering, exploring or leaving.

Take Nothing

Again, like all these rules, it should be obvious: taking anything you find is theft, plain and simple.

Leave Nothing

Many of the sites we visit have unfortunately been damaged and defaced by previous visitors, either with graffiti or with litter and rubbish. Even if a site is already a mess and full of trash, don't add to it. Firstly because, again its rude and disrespectful and, secondly, because littering is an offence in UK. Also, if caught, you could be sued for the cost of clearing up your mess.

If Asked, Leave Immediately

This is extremely important. If someone asks you to leave, do so straight away. You may wonder if that person has the authority to do so (are they really the owner?), but in reality no one will ask you to leave without a reason. Many of the custodians of abandoned sites have health safety uppermost in their minds; they don't want you to get hurt. They also have a legal duty to make a site safe and the simplist way of doing this is stopping anyone entering.

Also, just imagine if someone came in to your garden and started exploring; you'd probably go out and ask them to leave. Now imagine that your garden is particularly interesting and you are repeatedly asking people to leave; you'd probably start to get irritated.

Keep these things in mind if the person asking you to leave isn't particularly friendly.

Most importantly: don't argue. As with all these rules, it's all about respect. Also, if you argue when asked to leave, you may now be guilty of 'Aggravated Trespass' and that is a criminal offence.

Also, don't wait for the owner to leave and then go back in. Just leave.

Health & Safety

This is not a rule, just (hopefully) common sense. If your are visiting somewhere that is abandoned and decaying then it's probably not in the best state of repair. The opportunities to hurt yourself are many and varied. If it's a building, you need to be confident that it is stable enough for you to enter without things falling on you. Are the floors safe to walk on, is that staircase going to bear your weight? If you climb up there and fall off, what are the consequences? Also, if you hurt yourself or get yourself trapped, how are you going to get help?

As a rule, don't go alone. Also, alone or not, make sure someone knows where you're going and roughly when you intend to get back. Dress appropriately and take a mobile phone (and check you have signal!).

Disclaimer and General Blame Dodging

Just to be clear, I am not a lawyer and never have been. If you decide to do some UrbEx and get in to trouble: don't blame me! I cannot and will not take responsibility for your actions. Nothing here is a recomendation, this is just a thought piece that sets out our approach to UrbExing; you should consider thoroughly your own approach, make sure you understand the law in the place you intend to explore and ensure you make intelligent provisions regarding your health and safety before you set out.