Learn about the code and what your responsibilities are when embarking upon a rural walk or visit to the countryside.
The Countyside Code is a set of rules and guidelines set out so that hikers and other visitors to the countryside aware of their responsibilities, reduce their impact upon the environment and the community, and limit the possibility of damage to property and wildlife.
The code is sometimes split into three main areas: Respect – Protect – Enjoy
When visiting the countryside you should respect other people. Some examples of how you can do this follows (this list is not exhaustive):
- You should think about how your visit to the countryside could affect local communities. For example, when parking a vehicle you should ensure you haven’t blocked a driveway or access lane (agricultural vehicles require much more space than a car). Always park in a sensible place and if possible you should leave your vehicle at home and use local transport.
- You should slow down or stop for horses, walkers and farm animals and ensure you always allow plenty of room.
- Ensure you cooperate with farmers and other people who might be working in the countryside. If cattle or other animals are being moved or herded then you should keep away until it is clear, or find another way around.
- Make sure you know your route well and how to use a map. Keep to the paths and permitted routes. If you are likely to damage crops or disturb livestock by crossing a field then be prepared to stick to the edges.
- Ensure dogs are kept under controls at all times. Even well-behaved dogs can be unpredictable around livestock, so always keep them on a short-lead when in any fields which may contain (or are adjacent to) animals. Remember that dogs can easily get through small gaps in hedges and fences. There may be restrictions to dogs in some areas and these should be adhered to. If you are chased by animals whilst walking your dog then it is usually safer (for you and your dog) to let go of the lead. Always pick up dog mess as it cause infections. Ensure your dog is wormed regularly.
- Make sure you leave gates as you find them (if they are tied up with string then ensure you re-tie them after use). Use gates and stiles to pass through boundaries. Climbing walls and over fences can easily cause damage which may increase the chance of animals escaping.
Protect the natural environment for others and future generations.
- This means you should ‘leave no trace’ – after you visit to the countryside it should remain as if you had never been there. ‘Leave only footsteps and take nothing but memories’ (and maybe a few photographs). Some examples of you can help do this are below (again, this list is not exhaustive):
- You should take special care not to damage, destroy or remove any features such as plants, trees, vegetation, rocks or creatures.
- You should not camp on any land without having the land-owner’s permission.
- Fires can devastate wildlife and natural habitats. Always be careful with naked flames and cigarettes. Never start a camp fire or collect wood without the land owner’s permission.
- Remember that a small piece of wood could actually be a large home for many small creatures. Plants provide essential food for wildlife. Even a soggy pile of leaves releases nutrients to the earth to encourage the growth of new plants and trees.
- Make no unnecessary noise – loud noise not only spoils the enjoyment of the countryside for other people, but it can disturb animals and wildlife.
Remember your own safety – Take special care when walking along roads. Make sure you are visible at night when walking along roads.
- If you might be back after-dark then make sure you take a torch with you. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
- Check the weather forecast before you go, especially if embarking on a hike in a hilly, remote or mountainous areas.
- Ensure your route is planned carefully, look for things like shortcuts, shelter, shops or other services along the way, but remember that your map could be out-of-date! Don’t rely on your mobile phone of battery-powered GPS devices. Batteries can run out, and mobile signal is often weak or not available.
- Wear the appropriate clothing – jeans and trainers are not usually appropriate for walks in the countryside.
- Above all, remember that you are responsible for your own safety and that there are many potential hazards in the countryside – cliff edges, barbed wire, electrified fences, unpredictable livestock, slippery ground, motorised vehicles etc. Enjoy your walk but remember pay attention at all times.