The Countryside Code was formerly known as ‘The Country Code’ and was renamed and re-launched in 2004 to reflect developments within society over more recent years and to introduce the new open access rights which have also come into force.
The code applies to England and Wales (Scotland has its own similar code) and is designed to promote good practice and encourage responsible behaviour when people are out visiting the countryside.
There are five main elements which are contained within the code. They are:
“Be Safe Plan Ahead and Follow any Signs”
This echoes of the Boy Scout’s motto ‘be prepared’ and basically, that’s what the code is encouraging you to do. Before you even head off on your trip to the countryside, you should firstly find out if any part of your intended route is restricted. For example, there may be essential work being carried out which closes off access to certain trails, footpaths or parkland or an area may be closed temporarily as it is currently deemed unsafe or there may be even be areas closed because a species of wildlife might be in the middle of their breeding season. You should be able to find this kind of information out via the internet and it is good to have this knowledge before you set off. Also, whilst you’re there, be on the lookout for any signs and follow any advice or instructions on them.
Your own personal safety is paramount. You may be heading to a remote part of the country where even mobile phones won’t be able to receive a signal and you may find that you hardly encounter any other people apart from those with whom you might be travelling, so you should let someone back at home know where and when you’re going and what time you aim to return.
You should check the weather forecast before you go. Weather can change in an instant, especially up on higher fells and peaks so, in addition to checking the night before, check again just before you head off and don’t be foolish enough to go ahead with your trip if the weather’s bad or to plough on regardless once you’re there. You should know when to call it quits for your own safety. You can always go again another day.
“Leave Gates and Property as You Find Them”
So many of us enjoy the beauty of the countryside but we must never forget that to some people and to a lot of wildlife, the countryside is also their home and it’s important that we respect that. Ignore that and we are at risk of damaging people’s livelihoods, our heritage and the safety of people, animals and even ourselves.
This is often of particular relevance to the farming community. Gates, in particular, should be left as we find them. For example, a farmer may keep a gate closed to keep livestock contained but may leave other gates open so the animals have access to food and drink. You should, therefore, leave any gates as you find them and, if you’re travelling in a group, make sure that the last person to encounter the gate knows what is expected. Sometimes you’ll be helped by signs or instructions which have been left on or close to the gate.
Don’t walk across any open field where crops are growing. Follow any designated pathways. Don’t try to take shortcuts by climbing over walls, hedges or fences. Use the appropriate gates or stiles. Clambering over walls and fences can damage them and in doing so, you may be held responsible for farm livestock escaping.
You may come across old ruins and areas of historical interest whilst out in the countryside. It’s important that you don’t damage or disturb these either. They represent our heritage and that heritage should be preserved by everybody and for everybody to enjoy for years to come. Any farm machinery or animals that you encounter should not be tampered with. Even if you see an animal that appears to be in distress, you should try and report it to the farmer or contact the relevant local authority as soon as possible.
“Protect Plants and Animals and Take Your Litter Home”
We are only able to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the countryside because previous generations have taken care of them so we have a duty to do the same and to respect and protect birds, animals, plants and trees so that future generations can enjoy them equally.
Please take your litter home with you. Not only is it a blot on the landscape, but it can also harm wildlife and can spread disease rapidly. To drop litter and to dump rubbish is to commit a criminal offence. Even if you think you respect your surroundings, make sure that things stay put where they are meant to be so don’t collect items like plants and tree cuttings or move rocks about. They provide food and shelter for many forms of wildlife and without them, you would be depriving others of the enjoyment that you’ve found in experiencing these pleasures as well as disturbing wildlife habitat.
Don’t get too close to wild animals or farm animals. They can behave unpredictably and can be dangerous, especially if they are rearing their young. Even if they look timid, don’t venture too close. If they run away, they might never return to look after their offspring who are dependent on them.
No doubt, you are extremely careful with fire when you are at home. If you’re out in the countryside, you should show the same level of care and respect as fire can destroy wildlife and its habitat in an instant. Don’t drop any matches and, if you must smoke, make sure any cigarette ends are fully extinguished and then take them out along with any other rubbish you’ve accumulated along the way.
Sometimes, controlled fires will be deliberately set alight to manage vegetation. This is quite common, especially on open heaths and moorland and often occurs any time between autumn and early spring so check that a fire is not supervised before you call out the fire brigade.
“Keep Dogs Under Close Control”
Your dog will enjoy a trip out to the countryside as much as you and probably more. Dogs are welcome in the countryside but there are strict rules about their behaviour.
By law, your dog must be kept under control at all times so that it cannot disturb farm animals or other wildlife. It must be kept on a short lead at most times between the beginning of March and the end of July if you are walking through common land and open country and at all times if you are near farmland. It can be off the lead on public paths as long as it is under close control but a dog can be unpredictable, no matter how well it has been trained, so it’s wise to get into the habit of keeping your dog on a lead at all times. Remember, if a dog harasses or injures livestock on farmland, a farmer is legally entitled to shoot it dead.
Naturally, you should clean up any dog mess and take it out with you as it can cause infections and makes it unpleasant for others.
“Consider Other People”
To fully enjoy the countryside experience, you should show consideration and respect for others at all times and they’re likely to show you the same.
Some country roads are very narrow with lots of blind spots and bends and others are little more than tracks, so slow down when out driving in the countryside. It’s not just you and the animals that are at risk of getting injured but also local residents who will probably take a more relaxed approach to walking than you might be used to, so don’t assume that they’ll dart out of the way to compensate for your speed. They’ll be expecting you to drive responsibly and carefully. Respect the needs of the local community and don’t block driveways or any other entry and exit points with your car.
If farm animals are being moved from one area to another and are on the road, get out of the way or follow the directions and advice that a farmer gives you.
If you’re a cyclist, remember that you have to give way to walkers at all times on footpaths and to horses and their riders if on a bridleway.
It’s always good to help support the local economy wherever possible. Farming and other businesses in a rural community often struggle and have only survived generations by relying on passing trade as well as from within their local community. Try to purchase your supplies locally. Not only will you be helping the local community, you’ll probably meet some nice people too.