It’s 70 years since the first Countryside Code was launched and with spring now well underway and plenty of staycations anticipated this year, the publication of a new Code for England and Wales will be welcomed by many.
The last year has seen many landowners frustrated by an influx of new visitors who seem to lack the knowledge and understanding required to make a visit to the countryside enjoyable for them, while minimising the impact on the environment and on those who live and work in the countryside.
The key messages of the new Code are ‘Respect everyone’, Protect the Environment’ and ‘Enjoy the outdoors’. Visitors should be mindful that where there is public access the countryside is still often a working environment and rich in wildlife. Visitors are asked to respect the land and area they are visiting.
The new Code stresses:
- closing gates
- adhering to directional signs and keeping to marked paths and public access areas
- not parking at field entrances and accesses to buildings
- not feeding animals, horses and livestock
- taking litter home
- keeping dogs under control and removing dog mess
- not to light BBQs or fires
- walking facing oncoming traffic on roads with no pavement and follow the highway code
- drivers must slow down for horses
- cyclists must give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways.
There is an emphasis on improving the public’s knowledge too, with advice on planning visits to the countryside. Planning means checking maps and publications before visiting an area to identify where there are public paths and where areas are allocated for public use and enjoyment. Planning should also include checking tide times and weather conditions to avoid getting cut off by the tide or getting lost or caught out in bad weather. The Countryside Code includes information to familiarise the public about access signs used in the countryside too.
Advice for landowners
Within the publication is advice for landowners. This includes ensuring public access areas are clearly signposted and easily available. Landowners may want to help the public to be better informed by adding information boards or notices of land management activities and their implications.
The advice also recommends ensuring areas are kept tidy: ‘rubbish attracts other rubbish’. Landowners should also avoid using electric fencing, store chemicals safely and carefully consider the implications of any volatile livestock (such as bulls) near or on public access areas.
Landowners can also help themselves with a better understanding of the access rights on their land and their liabilities. If public paths and access areas are available and well signed, unwanted trespassing could be avoided.
Opportunity for all
Visitors have the opportunity to respect the countryside, enjoy the outdoors and learn more about land management, wildlife and the environment.
Landowners have the opportunity to point visitors in the right direction, educate them and keep them on the right path.
Given the likely influx of visitors to the countryside this summer, landowners may also want to consider whether changes to public rights of way of their land would be advantageous, for example, to avoid busy working farm areas or private gardens
If informal access is taking place, it is sensible to manage it, by clearly establishing that it is permissive and taking steps to avoid a route being vulnerable to a claim that a new public right of way has been created through public use.