The Importance of the Countryside Code

by Nicky Jaquiery

Being outdoors enjoying the countryside and the fresh air is where I prefer to be. Even on a cold winter’s day I’d rather be outside walking because of how good it makes me feel. For me it’s about getting away from everything and enjoying the scenery.

Countryside CodeMore and more people think likewise and are choosing to spend their leisure time walking. This means that there is increasing pressure on our natural environment.

It’s easy to take what’s on our doorstep for granted and assume that it will always be there, but if we are to protect and preserve the beauty of our countryside for all of us to enjoy, now and in the future, we each need to take responsibility for doing this and follow some basic guidelines.

The roots of the Countryside Code

The Countryside Code is a set of common sense ‘rules’, which essentially tell us our responsibilities when we’re out walking. They are also designed to help us improve our walking experience and get the most out of the outdoors.

The Countryside Code has evolved from the Country Code, first introduced in the 1950s in an attempt to educate the influx of visitors from urban areas to the countryside. The Country Code of the 1950s developed into what is perhaps the most well known version, published by the Countryside Commission in 1981.

These key messages have been incorporated into the more recent, and more extensive, 2004 Countryside Code. This came about as a result of changes in society over the preceding years and the introduction of the new Countryside Rights of Way Act in 2000, giving the public the right of access to open country and registered common land.

The Countryside Code applies in England and Wales. In Scotland, where there is a more general right of access, there is the Scottish Outdoor Access Code and, in Northern Ireland, Leave No Trace. All three are comparable in terms of content and have the same aim: to help us enjoy the countryside in a responsible and sustainable way.

What does the Code contain?

The Countryside Code in principle is ‘Respect. Protect. Enjoy.’ Respect other people; protect the natural environment and enjoy the outdoors. The comprehensive set of guidelines encompassed within the Countryside Code have been divided into five succinct sections that are more appropriate for walkers. These are:

1. Be safe: plan ahead and follow any signs

A sign worth heeding!

  • Before setting out on your walk it’s advisable to get hold of the latest information about where and when you can go. For example, some areas may be restricted at certain times of the year, such as during breeding seasons.
  • You’re responsible for your own safety so let someone know your intentions, such as where you’re going and how long you’ll be gone.
  • Check the weather forecast before you leave. Conditions can change rapidly so be prepared to turn back.
  • Make sure you’re familiar with the signs and symbols used in the countryside that you might encounter on your walk and do as they say. I’ve ignored signs that say ‘bull in field’ at my cost and have been chased. Thankfully, I did manage to escape over a wall!

2. Leave gates and property as you find them and follow paths

  • Respect the working life of the countryside and act responsibly.
  • Leave gates as you find them even if a gate is open. A farmer will leave a gate open for a reason.
  • Leave machinery and livestock alone even if an animal is in distress. Alert the farmer if possible.
  • Always use stiles or gaps in field boundaries wherever possible. Don’t climb over walls, hedges, etc. as this can cause damage and increase the risk of livestock escaping.
  • Follow paths unless wider access is available, for example, across open access land.

3. Protect plants and animals and take your litter home

  • Take care not to damage, destroy or remove natural features, such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife and add to your enjoyment of the countryside and everyone else’s!
  • Give livestock plenty of room. Don’t walk too close to them especially when they’re with their young.
  • Do not drop litter. It is a criminal offence to drop litter and dump rubbish. I follow the simple rule, ‘bag out what you bag in!’
  • Be careful with naked flames and cigarettes at any time of year. If you spot a fire and it doesn’t appear to be controlled or supervised, report it by calling 999.

4. Keep your dog under close control

  • Make sure your dog does not disturb or worry livestock, wildlife or other people.
  • By law, farmers are entitled to shoot a dog that injures or worries their livestock.
  • Special dog rules may apply in certain situations. For example, it’s a legal requirement for a dog to be on a lead on open access land between March 1 and July 31 and at all times near livestock. However, if livestock chases you and your dog, it’s safer to let your dog off the lead.
  • Clean up dog mess and dispose of it responsibly: ‘bag it and bin it’. Also, make sure your dog is wormed regularly.

5. Consider other people

  • Show consideration and respect for the local community and other people.
  • Co-operate with people at work in the countryside. For example, keep out of the way when livestock are being moved and follow the farmer’s directions.
  • Don’t block gateways or driveways with your vehicle. Consider leaving your vehicle at home if you can.
  • Slow down for livestock, horses and walkers and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to horses and walkers on bridleways.
  • Support the rural economy wherever possible. For example, buy your supplies from local shops when you’re out walking.

By following the Countryside Code your walk will be more enjoyable. If you try to move through the countryside without leaving any trace of ever having been there, so too will the experiences of others who follow on after you!

Originally published 08/06/15

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