Countryside visitors urged to say hello, stick to footpaths

The River Swale snakes through the countryside of Swaledale, Yorkshire.
The River Swale snakes through the countryside of Swaledale, Yorkshire.

Visitors to the outdoors are being urged to say hello to other people, stay on footpaths, and bag and bin their dog’s poo in a new-look Countryside Code.

The updated version of the code, which provides advice for visitors to natural places, is being launched on the 70th anniversary of the booklet’s first publication in 1951.

It is the first refresh of the Countryside Code in more than a decade, although there were some updates last summer in response to issues raised during lockdown, such as an increase in litter and dogs worrying livestock.

Officials said the new version, which comes as more people are using green spaces, aims to help the public be safe, look after the natural environment and protect the livelihoods of people who live in the countryside.

It is being launched as easing lockdown restrictions ahead of the Easter weekend is expected to lead to large numbers of people visiting rural areas.

Changes to the code include advice on creating a welcoming environment for other people by being nice and saying hello, and reminders not to feed livestock, horses or wild animals and to stay on marked footpaths, even if they are muddy, to protect crops and wildlife.

There are also clearer rules for dog walkers to bag up their pet’s poo and take it home to their own bin if there are no public waste bins, and information on permission for certain activities such as wild swimming.

The code is aiming for a change of tone to create a guide for the public, rather than a list of rules, as it recognises the benefits for people of spending time in nature and encourages people to “enjoy your visit, have fun, make a memory”.

It also makes clear that the guidance applies to all natural places, including parks and waterways, coast and countryside.

The new version, launched by government agencies Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, has been drawn up following an online survey that garnered nearly 4,000 responses, and has been welcomed by rural and farming groups.

Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: “The Countryside Code has been providing an excellent guide for people on how to get out and enjoy the outdoors safely for over 70 years.

“With more people than ever before seeking solace in nature, this refresh could not come at a more crucial time.

“We want everyone to be aware of the Code, so people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the invaluable health and wellbeing benefits that nature offers, while giving it the respect it deserves.”

Rural affairs minister Lord Gardiner said: “With so many people visiting the countryside, the Countryside Code has never felt more relevant.

“Crucially it now covers all green spaces, waterways, the coast and even parks in towns and cities, so that everyone, as we lift restrictions, can enjoy a greener future.”

Mark Bridgeman, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents 28,000 rural businesses owners across England and Wales, said: “With more people expected to explore rural areas over Easter it’s imperative that the Code is well-read, respected and followed.

“Although there have not been significant changes to the Code, the messaging is clear – Respect, Protect and Enjoy the outdoors.

“By closing gates behind you and sticking to footpaths, to keeping your dog under control and picking up rubbish, there is no reason why we cannot work together to keep the countryside beautiful for everyone to enjoy.”