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The Countryside Code
The Countryside Code gives advice on how to enjoy your visit to the countryside while at the same time helping to protect it. Find out about planning ahead, staying safe, controlling your dog near livestock and preventing fires.
What is the Countryside Code?
The Countryside Code gives commonsense advice to help everybody respect, protect and enjoy the countryside. It is also there to support local communities who live and work in the countryside.
Five simple messages summarise the Code:
- be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
- leave gates and property as you find them
- protect plants and animals and take your litter home
- keep dogs under close control
- consider other people
The Code applies to all parts of the countryside in England and Wales. Scotland has its own Outdoor Access Code.
Other types of landscape, like moorlands, also have specific codes. These can be found on the Natural England website.
Plan ahead and follow any signs
You’re responsible for your safety and for others in your care, so be prepared, seek out local advice and follow signs.
Plan before you go
Keep safe by checking weather conditions before you leave, being ready for the weather changing and being prepared to turn back if it does. Let someone know where you're going and when you expect to return, as you might not get a mobile phone signal in some places.
You can find up-to-date maps and guidebooks at local or tourist information centres. For more help, the Countryside Directory lists organisations offering advice on equipment and safety.
Know the signs and follow advice
Follow advice and local signs, even if you’re going out locally, as situations change – e.g. normally accessible land may be off-limits during breeding season.
You can get to know the signs used in the countryside by downloading a ‘Finding your way’ advice sheet containing all the up-to-date symbols.
Leave everything as you find it
Your actions can affect other people and their livelihoods, the UK’s heritage and the welfare of animals. Here are some ways you can safeguard the working life of the countryside:
Leave gates as you find them
It’s important to leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs. Gates may be open so animals can reach food and water. If you’re walking in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.
Stick to paths
Follow paths wherever possible, especially in fields where crops are growing and might get damaged. Try to use gates and stiles, as climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.
Take care and leave it there
Try to leave things as you find them:
- be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites
- don’t damage or remove features like rocks, plants and trees; they provide homes and food for wildlife
- leave machinery and livestock alone – if you think an animal is in distress, tell the farmer rather than trying to help it
- if you think a sign is illegal or misleading, like a 'Private: No Entry’ sign on a public footpath, don’t remove it – contact the local council
Protect wildlife and take litter home
Help to protect the countryside by making sure you don't harm animals, birds, plants or trees.
Take your litter home
Litter and leftover food can be dangerous to animals and can spread disease, so take it home with you. Dumping rubbish spoils the beauty of the countryside and is also a criminal offence.
Fire can be devastating to wildlife, so be careful not to drop a match or smouldering cigarette. If you see a fire, check it’s not supervised (some controlled fires are used to manage vegetation) before you call 999.
Give wildlife space
Give wild animals and farm animals plenty of space, as they can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they're with their young.
Keep dogs under close control
The countryside is a good place to exercise dogs. By law, you must control your dog so it doesn’t disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife.
Keeping your dog on a lead
You don’t have to put your dog on a lead on public paths, as long as it’s under close control. However, you should keep your dog on a short lead:
- if you can’t rely on it obeying you
- on most areas of open country and common land or open access land between 1 March and 31 July
- always near farm animals
- if there are signs asking you to do so
If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it’s safer to let your dog off the lead. Don’t risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.
Protecting sheep and birds from dogs
Take care your dog doesn’t scare sheep and lambs or wander where it might alarm birds nesting on the ground. Eggs and young will soon die without protection from their parents. By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals.
Cleaning up dog mess
Dog mess is unpleasant and can cause infections, so clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Making sure your dog is wormed regularly will protect it, other animals and people.
Consider other people
Showing consideration for other people makes the countryside a pleasant environment for everyone.
As a driver
Busy traffic on small country roads can be unpleasant and dangerous to people and wildlife. If possible, leave your vehicle at home and consider sharing lifts, using public transport or cycling. If you need to take a car, you can help by:
- slowing down, especially for horses, walkers and livestock, who need to be given plenty of room
- respecting the needs of local people – for example, not blocking gateways, driveways or other entrances with your vehicle
- keeping out of the way when farm animals are being moved and following directions from the farmer
As a cyclist
By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse-riders on bridleways. You should also slow down and give them (and any livestock you come across) plenty of room.