The pandemic sparked a renewed interest in the public visiting the countryside, resulting in damage to crops and property for many farmers. This prompted a review, resulting in Natural England and Natural Resources Wales providing a major revision to the Countryside Code which was published in April 2021.
On 8 February 2022, new guidance was released for land managers to help ensure that visitors to the countryside can enjoy it in a responsible way.
The updated code is split into two parts – firstly advice for countryside visitors and secondly advice for land managers.
Those visiting the countryside are advised to follow the main provisions, which include:
- Respecting everyone: leaving gates and property as they find them, not blocking gateways and driveways and keeping to the marked paths unless there is wider access available
- Protecting the environment: taking all litter home, not lighting fires and keeping dogs under control
- Enjoying the outdoors: checking routes and planning visits
- Knowing the signs and symbols used in the countryside.
Those managing land are advised to follow the main provisions which include:
- Knowing their rights and responsibilities, in particular for public rights of way
- Understanding visitors’ access rights on their land, including the extent to which different types of public rights of way can be used
- Keeping rights of way usable: not blocking them, clearing vegetation, and maintaining gates and stiles
- Helping visitors to act responsibly: making the position regarding gates clear, installing self-closing gates, clearing farm rubbish and reporting anti-social behaviour and fly-tipping
- Making signs easy to understand: using friendly language
- Creating a safe environment: warning visitors of hazards, maintaining trees to avoid falling debris, managing and protecting livestock, using machinery in a safe manner, and storing and using chemicals safely
- Knowing who to contact when required, from the local authority to the NFU.
What does this mean for land managers?
The guidance is aimed at trying to ensure that the public can access the countryside safely while avoiding damage to property and livestock, and anti-social behaviour. It includes guidance that can be followed both generally and in specific situations. Full guidance is available online.
Do I have to follow it?
The code is for guidance only and, therefore, is not legally enforceable. However, like any code of practice, if any liability claims were to arise, the code and an individual’s compliance with it may be taken into account when deciding on legal liability or if there has been compliance with the law.