How the Countryside Code affects your walking

Know the code and improve your walking

The countryside provides a scenic place for walkers to exercise and develop their physical health and fitness. However, it is important to protect the UK's beautiful natural landscapes when out hiking and as a result it is vital walkers uphold the Countryside Code. Here's's guide on how the post-2004 Countryside Code could affect your walking plans.

Introduction to the Countryside Code and its benefits to walkers

The countryside provides a superb location to get away from everything with a relaxing walk the most simple and inexpensive activity we can do.

In the countryside we are less likely to come into contact with many people, and even if we do, it is strange how fellow walkers adopt a smiling personality and consider that just about anybody they pass as a walking friend. But with this freedom of the open green expanses comes special responsibilities that we all must follow to ensure everyone's walking safety and keep the countryside alive for future generations.

The Countryside Code has evolved over time, but essentially tells us of our responsibilities when out and about, walking in the countryside.

Brief history of the Countryside Code

In the 1930s, the Commons and Open Spaces Society produced a Country Code and the Council for the Protection of Rural England produced a Code of Courtesy.

In the 1940s the Ramblers Association produced a Ramblers' Code, and later a National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act led to the production of the first national Country Code in 1951.

In 1979 the Country Code was reviewed by the Countryside Commission which led to the list of key messages published in 1981, which included: enjoy the countryside and respect its life and work; guard against all risk of fire; fasten all gates; keep your dogs under close control; keep to public paths across farmland; use gates and stiles to cross fences, hedges and walls; leave livestock, crops and machinery alone; take your litter home; help to keep all water clean; protect wildlife, plants and trees; take special care on country roads; make no unnecessary noise.

As part of the implementation of the Countryside Rights of Way Act (2000), the Countryside Agency and the Countryside Council for Wales developed a new Countryside Code, which was designed to reflect both the changes that had happened over the previous 20 years and the introduction of the new public right of access to open country and registered common land.

The post-2004 Countryside Code

The new Countryside Code, which was launched in July 2004, followed extensive consultation with the public and stakeholders carried out through the summer of 2003.

The advice for the public falls into the following five common sense headings when out walking:

Be safe — plan ahead and follow any signage

  • Check out the latest information about where and when you can walk. For example, your rights to walk onto some areas of open land may be restricted while work is carried out or during breeding seasons.  
  • Be prepared for changes in weather by checking weather forecasts before you leave, and don't be afraid to turn back.
  • Let someone else know where you're going and when you expect to return.

Leave gates and property as you find them when walking

  • A farmer will normally leave a gate closed to keep livestock in, but may sometimes leave it open so they can reach food and water. Leave gates as you find them. If walking in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.
  • In fields where crops are growing follow the paths wherever possible.
  • Use gates and stiles wherever possible as climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them.
  • Leave machinery and livestock alone. Even if animals are in distress, leave them and alert the farmer.

Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home after a walk

  • Litter and leftovers can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals and can spread disease. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offense.
  • Take special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife.
  • 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.
  • Be careful not to drop a match or smouldering cigarette at any time of the year. If you spot a fire, try to see if it is controlled and supervised, particularly on heaths and moors between October and early April, before calling 999.

Keep dogs under close control when walking in the countryside

  • By law, you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals or wildlife. You must keep your dog on a short lead on most areas of open country and common land between March 1st and July 31st, and at all times near farm animals.
  • By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals.
  • Clean up dog mess as it is a can cause infections. Also make sure your dog is wormed regularly. 

Consider other people when out walking or rambling

  • Show consideration and respect for other people when out walking.
  • Slow down if driving on country roads as it can endanger visitors and wildlife better still, leave the car at home.
  • Don't block gateways, driveways or other entry points with your vehicle.
  • By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse riders on bridleways.
  • Keep out of the way when farm animals are being gathered or moved and follow directions from the farmer.
  • Support the rural economy   for example, buy your supplies from local shops when out on a walking trip.

Check out more walking articles in our hiking section

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