A refreshed Countryside Code has been launched by Natural England (NE) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) for its 70 year anniversary to help the public enjoy the countryside in a safe and respectful way.
Updated by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) on the back of nearly 4,000 online survey respondents, changes included advice on creating a welcoming environment as well as clearer rules highlighting the importance of clearing away dog poo, staying on footpaths and not feeding livestock.
It follows years of industry calls for reform and an influx of people visiting farmland and rural locations during the pandemic, bringing with them an increase in ‘anti-social behaviour’ incidents which put farmers, livestock, wildlife and livelihoods at risk.
There are also fears the Easter weekend and the easing of some lockdown restrictions will see more people flock to the countryside at an important time in the farming calendar.
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 more than 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.”
Richard Benwell, chief executive of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said the Code was an invitation to celebrate nature, and Rural Affairs Minister Lord Gardiner urged visitors, both old and new, to follow its advice.
NFU deputy president, Stuart Roberts, added it was important that the modern-day rights of way network benefits both farmers and the public.
"The NFU has been working closely with Defra and Natural England on a refresh of the messaging in the Code to bring it up to date and to help address the recent increase in access-related issues such as keeping to public rights of way, ensuring dogs are under control and dog waste is binned," Mr Roberts said.
"We, along with Government and other stakeholders, will be promoting the new look Code and its core messages to ensure everyone who visits the countryside is provided with greater awareness of the need to keep safe and responsible as well as the role farming plays in shaping our much-loved working landscapes.”
While appreciating the physical and mental benefits of exercising outdoors, Mendip Hills AONB manager Jim Hardcastle asked people to think before they choose to visit and to be respectful of the needs and concerns of local communities.
“There will be lots more people wanting to visit this spring and summer. We all need to be a little more understanding so we can share these spaces without impacting on them too much," Mr Hardcastle said.