MANY of us have been embracing the great outdoors during the pandemic.

Heading out for walks and exploring our local surroundings has become something of a comfort during these uncertain times.

However, many of us may not have heard of the Countryside Code we should be following when getting out and about in rural areas. 

Here we look at the Countryside Code and the role each of us should be playing in protecting and respecting the countryside.

What is the Countryside Code?

The first Countryside Code booklet was first published in 1951. It tells visitors how to get outside safely and enjoy our countryside responsibly.

An updated version of the code has been issued and it is the first refresh of the code for 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.

Why has it been updated this year?

The overhauled guide, which provides advice to visitors about how to enjoy a visit to the countryside safely and responsibly under its headings: Respect, Protect, Enjoy, was made to ensure its more engaging with the public following an increase of visitors to the countryside since Covid-19 struck.

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.

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.

It was launched as lockdown restrictions eased ahead of the Easter weekend and as larger numbers of people visit rural areas.

Bournemouth Echo:

What exactly are the changes?

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 key changes at a glance:

  • New advice for people to ‘be nice, say hello, share the space’ as well as ‘enjoy your visit, have fun, make a memory’.
  • A reminder not to feed livestock, horses or wild animals.
  • To stay on marked footpaths, even if they are muddy, to protect crops and wildlife.
  • Information on permissions to do certain outdoor activities, such as wild swimming.
  • Clearer rules for dog walkers to take home dog poo and use their own bin if a there are no public waste bins.
  • A refreshed tone of voice, creating a guide for the public rather than a list of rules – recognising the significant health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature.
  • New wording to make clear that the code applies to all our natural places, including parks and waterways, coast and countryside.

Why should I care about the Countryside Code?

As previously reported, Lulworth Estate, which manages Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door, said it wanted the Countryside Code to be at "forefront of people’s minds".

The plea came after thousands of people flocked to the Dorset beauty spots last year.

In their statement detailing their calls for more action, the Estate said the "hit-and-run" approach for holidays had a serious negative effect on the countryside and coastline with mass littering, flycamping, graffiti, fire and other environmental concerns being caused by visitors simply unaware of the impact they were having.

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Rubbish left at Durdle Door - Image Lulworth Estate

What else are people saying?

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.”