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Frequently asked questions about The Countryside Code

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General

Why do we need a Countryside Code?

Natural England and Natural Resources Wales have a statutory duty to produce a Code as set out in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. 

Our statutory duty is to keep the Code up to date, relevant and accessible to all. 

The 1949 Act established National Parks, National Trails, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty and National Nature Reserves. With their creation, the original Country Code encouraged people to enjoy visiting these special places but also appreciate their intrinsic qualities and respect that others lived and worked there. So people needed to follow a few basic rules e.g. stay on footpaths, avoid damaging fences, and keep dogs under control.

The 2021 refresh of the Code contains the same basic messages of protecting the environment, respecting other people living, working and visiting the outdoors while enjoying the experience safely.  

What are the benefits of having a Countryside Code?

It’s an important piece of statutory work for England and Wales that encourages people to spend time outdoors with confidence, understand that others live and work there and advises landowners and managers on managing access on their land. 

The Code is an important tool to help us all feel confident to enjoy outdoor spaces while knowing how to do that safely and respectfully. 

The Code can help us all feel a sense of connection to our natural spaces and we are more likely to do the right thing when we do. 

Is the Countryside Code a legal document?

Natural England and Natural Resources Wales have a statutory duty to produce the Code, which is official government advice, but it is not a legally binding document and we do not have any powers under it. 

(Note that the Countryside Code will not resolve every issue raised as a concern. Different aspects of the Code are underpinned by law in their own right e.g. illegally riding motorbikes on footpaths is covered by the Highways Act 1980. Some byelaws restrict access by dogs.) 

Who is responsible for enforcing the Code?

Natural England and Natural Resources Wales do not have an enforcement role and this aspect is not mentioned in the Code itself – it is the responsibility of site managers.

The Code is not legally enforceable. Wilful anti-social or illegal behaviour are not covered by the Code.

Our starting point is that most people want to do the right thing, and the more information and guidance we can provide, the fewer problems that will occur.

 

Do the same rules apply in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland?

The Code applies in England and Wales, but each country has its own version because of different access rights.  For example, the coastal margin of the England Coast Path is created using open access rights in England but not in Wales. The two countries also have different dates for controlled fires

 Scotland and Ireland have their own outdoor access codes as they both operate under different access legislation:

The Scottish Outdoor Access Code – mygov.scot 

The Countryside Code | nidirect 

Advice to the public

Are there places where access isn’t allowed either temporarily or permanently and how do I find out about this?

Most of the countryside in England and Wales is in private ownership. What may look like an open field is someone’s workspace for example where crops are grown.   The Code aims to make the public more aware of the access signs and symbols and when you need to ask permission for certain access and activities.

Where restrictions might apply, on-site signage or other relevant forms of communication will generally inform the public of any restrictions to access. For example, websites displaying statutory restrictions on open access land – Natural England – Open Access maps.

 

Is the code available in other languages and different formats e.g. braille?

The code has been translated into 18 languages: 

Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Cornish, French, German, Gujarati, Hindi, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Russian, Spanish, Tamil, Turkish, Urdu, Welsh. 

We will be exploring which other languages and formats it could be made available in. 

Land Manager's Advice (LMA)

What is the LMA?

Natural England and Natural Resources Wales have updated the Land Managers Advice within the Countryside Code, following updates to the public Code in April 2021. The Land Manager Advice sets out, through guidance and links, the responsibilities of Land Managers who have public access on their land.

The update has been made in collaboration with key stakeholders, including the National Farmers’ Union, Country Landowners’ Association, Health and Safety Executive, National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, Tenant Farmers Association and the Forestry Commission

Both the Land Manager Advice and Countryside Code promote responsible access and positive behaviours from all sides by presenting relevant, clear and accessible information.

Do Natural England and Natural Resources Wales have a statutory duty to provide land manager advice relating to the Countryside Code?

Yes. Natural England and Natural Resources Wales inherited the statutory duty to produce a ‘code of conduct’ for the public from the 1949 Act. This was subsequently extended to include land managers under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000‘that the public and persons interested in access land are informed of their respective rights and obligations’.

In England, the Marine and Coastal Access Act 2009 extended this duty to include the Coastal Access arrangements that led to the creation of the England Coast Path.

 

What will land managers specifically have to do because of this guidance?

The advice is just that – it’s not mandatory, except where it describes particular legal requirements. As public bodies, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales offer advice to the public and land managers on a wide range of access issues and their management.  Both organisations also provide more specific advice relating to our statutory duties relating to public access

In 2021, with support from key stakeholders, it was agreed to separate out the advice to the public from the Land Manager Advice – they had previously formed a single Code.  We published the revised public version in April 2021 and we have now published the separate Land Manager Advice.  We have avoided rewriting guidance that is already out there so the document provides an introduction to topics, then signposts to further detail.

What will the LMA update mean in practice?

The Land Manager Advice offers practical guidance on how to make access opportunities more accessible for those with different abilities and needs, clearer signage for countryside visitors, and how to report any anti-social behaviour, fly-tipping, littering, livestock worrying and other offences correctly to a local authority.  Land managers will be able to take messages from the advice to help shape their own targeted communication.

Will there be financial support available for land managers to adhere to the LMA guidance?

No.  This advice is a mix of guidance and a reminder of Land Managers’ legal responsibilities. 

The messages of the Countryside Code

Why are fireworks not mentioned in the Countryside Code?

The Code agreed with our key stakeholders, states very clearly “Respect everyone – be considerate to those living in, working in and enjoying the countryside’’. We will be producing further material to reinforce positive behaviour (such as on social media outlets).  It is important that everyone takes responsibility for their actions, and the Code aims to guide people in how to do so.   Running campaigns will allow us to use the messages of the Code flexibly and when we are approaching periods when there may be issues of concern to some members of the public such as fireworks we can undertake targeted communications such as social media posts to help people understand the effect that their activities may have.

Is it against the law to put dog poo in any bin?

It is OK to put bagged dog poo in any public rubbish bin, but not in recycling bins. Dog owners can also put bagged dog waste into their household waste bin, but not into food/composting bins.

Dog poo – why not stick and flick?

The Countryside Code does not mention stick and flick for several reasons:

  • The Code covers a range of environments from mountain tops to urban parks so our messaging must apply to all these environments – leave no trace of your visit applies to dog mess as well.
  • When Natural England and Natural Resources Wales refreshed the code we worked with a range of stakeholders including the Forestry Commision and several land manager groups.  We are aware of the harm that dog poo (and indeed dog poo left in bags) can cause to wildlife and livestock.  We have therefore used clear messaging for the public:
  • Always clean up your dog’s poo because it can cause illness in people, livestock and wildlife.
  • Never leave bags of dog poo around, even if you intend to pick them up later.
  • Deodorised bags and containers can make bags of dog poo easier to carry. If you cannot find a public waste bin, you should take it home and use your own bin.

Why aren't dogs required to be on a lead at all times?

The Code has to reflect current laws hence the wording “It is good practice wherever you are to keep your dog on a lead around livestock.”  If there is any future change on the law around dogs on leads, the Code will be updated to reflect this.

Why was wild swimming added to the code? Can you swim anywhere?

With new audiences, and more recent increasing popularity of some outdoor activities like cycling and swimming, Natural England and Natural Resources Wales want to make sure individuals, new groups and clubs are aware of the Code.

There is a public right to swim in the sea and you do not need the landowner’s permission to do so, but you should check for local notices and be guided by them.  

There is no public right to swim in all fresh water. The Code asks people to check if they need the landowner’s permission and to check water quality and safety issues before swimming.  

The Countryside Code Campaign

What is the campaign?

A major campaign to change behaviour through the Countryside Code has been started by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, working in partnership with key stakeholders. The campaign aims to increase awareness of the Code to help everyone feel safe and welcome in enjoying the outdoors. We aim to reach our target audiences where they are most active, and social media – including paid-for social media – is one of our methods of reaching those that need to hear its messages.

What is the campaign’s target audiences?

We know from the People and Nature Survey data and statistics that disparities exist when it comes to accessing green and natural spaces amongst different ethnic groups and age demographics that are caused by socio-economic and cultural factors.  Promoting the Countryside Code has been crucial in reaching these target audiences, with the aim of improving the physical and mental health of members of the public.

We will be exploring with colleagues across education departments the most feasible way to use the Code in the school curriculum.  Meanwhile, we would welcome any support with promoting the Code within schools and youth groups to raise awareness amongst young people.

How do you plan to get the Code into schools and engage with young people?

We will be exploring with colleagues across education departments the most feasible way to use the Code and the messages within it, in the school curriculum.  Meanwhile, we would welcome any support with promoting the Code within school communications and any other methods to incorporate within classroom teaching to raise further awareness of the code amongst pupils.