The Countryside Code: Much More than Just Closing Gates

We’re all lovers of the countryside here. But respecting it is even more important which is why the Countryside Code is in place. As much as we are massive advocates of getting out and about in the countryside, it’s essential we remember that what we do on our rural travels can affect the lives and livelihoods of those that live and work in rural communities.

The Countryside Code is just closing the odd gate, right? Wrong! It’s actually a detailed code of conduct, which, as lovers of the great outdoors, we should all be aware of and adhere to at all times. Let’s take a look at the finer detail of the big countryside rule book.

Leave Gates as you find them

OK so some of the Countryside Code is about gates. But did you know that it’s not actually about closing all gates behind you? The correct rule is that you should leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs. For example, although many farmers will usually close gates to keep farm animals in, there are occasions when gates are left open to allow animals access to food, water or shelter.

Similarly, be sure to always use gates, stiles or gaps in field boundaries rather than climbing over hedges, walls and fences, as climbing can cause damage and potentially allow farm animals to escape.

Leave the Countryside as you find it

This is a particular bug bear of ours: by all means get out and about and enjoy the countryside, but please leave it as you found it! This means taking home any litter, and not disturbing features such as rocks, plants and trees. Litter can be harmful to wildlife and taking natural features away from their native environment can remove the home of local wildlife. Plus by leaving the countryside as you find it, you’ll be leaving it for others to enjoy too.

Oh and remember that fires, whilst excellent for campfire stew, can wreak havoc on the countryside, so be particularly careful with naked flames. Similarly, if you come across a fire which appears to be unattended, report it straight away to the emergency services by calling 999.

Keep Dogs Under Control

If you’re taking your four-legged friends on an adventure with you, it’s important to keep them under control so that they don’t disturb wildlife and frighten farm animals, horses and other people. This could mean different things to different dogs and dog owners, so when it comes to the Countryside Code, here are the rules that apply:

  • Keep your dog on a lead and / or in sight at all times. If you do let your dog off the lead, you need to be confident it will return to you when called, especially when there are distractions like farm animals.
  • Ensure that it does not stray off of the path or area where you have the right of access.
  • Observe any bans or bylaws of certain regions of the countryside as applicable, e.g. keeping dogs on a short lead in areas which are important to bird life.
  • Clean up dog waste and dispose of it responsibly. 

Respect Local Communities and Other People Enjoying the Outdoors

Respecting the needs of locals and other visitors is a lot about common sense – not blocking gates or driveways with your vehicle, driving at a slower than normal speed on small country roads, etc. – but it’s also things like slowing down or stopping when cycling near horses. In fact, it’s the law to give way to walkers and horses as a cyclist on bridleways.

Similarly, cooperating with local people at work is a sensible and respectful way of enjoying the great outdoors; for example, keep out of the way if farm animals are being rounded up. This will not only keep you safe, but it will earn you the respect of rural communities.

Learn the Countryside Code!

There’s a lot more to the Countryside Code than what we’ve covered here. So if you’re off on an outdoor adventure, be sure to have a good read of it before you leave. In particular, get to know local signs and symbols so you can be certain you are sticking to the right routes. A yellow arrow on a green circular background for example means the footpath ahead is only open to walkers, whilst a blue arrow on the same background marks a bridleway open to walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, where cyclists are required to give way to walkers and horse-riders.

Here’s a link to the Countryside Code – now get out there and enjoy our great outdoors – responsibly!


Photographs copyright Sarah McInerney. All rights reserved.