The CLA (Country Land and Business Association) is urging dog owners and walkers visiting rural areas to follow the Countryside Code, amid the loosening of certain lockdown rules.
The call comes as the UK’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions are partially eased by the government, with being outdoors seen as less of a risk than other activities in spreading the virus.
The government has said people will be allowed to take unlimited amounts of outdoor exercise, sit or sunbathe in public areas, and drive to other destinations to exercise.
This could potentially lead to an increase in dog owners and walkers in the countryside.
The CLA South East office, which represents thousands of farmers, landowners and rural businesses in Kent, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and the Isle of Wight, is offering advice to visitors to enjoy rural areas responsibly at this time.
The renewed call comes after numerous farmers have suffered abuse by walkers not sticking to footpaths, trampling on crops, and not keeping their dogs under close control around livestock.
CLA South East Regional Director Michael Valenzia said: “The CLA recognises the enormous benefits to the nation’s wellbeing from being out in the countryside and close to nature. It is one of the most important ‘public goods’ provided by farmers and landowners.
“Visitors should maintain social distancing and not veer off sign-posted footpaths. Those using the countryside should, especially under current circumstances, be conscious that it is also a place of work where the land, livestock, machinery, wildlife and environment must be respected.
“We would advise owners to keep their dogs under close control when walking through fields of livestock, particularly sheep at this time of year, and to always stick to public rights of ways.
“It is also important that dogs should also be adequately controlled in arable fields. It is irresponsible to let dogs roam free, causing damage to crops that contribute to the country’s food supply.
“The Countryside Code is generally adhered to by the majority of people, but there are a few worrying trends either based on anti-social behaviour or a lack of awareness of the working countryside.
“Some spaces and places remain closed, with many public car parks shut, so it is best to check your intended destination is open and accessible before travelling.”
Three top tips for those using the countryside:
- Livestock worrying by dogs not adequately controlled by their owners is on the increase. Even the best-trained family pet can chase sheep and wildlife if not kept under close control. Also, clear up after your dog.
- Fly-tipping is a blight on the landscape and can cost £900 per incident to clear away, at the farmer’s expense. Please ensure you take your litter home with you and dispose of bulky waste through proper legal channels.
- When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow down or stop for horses, walkers and farm animals and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horse- riders on bridleways.
The Countryside Code applies to all parts of the countryside in England and Wales. It aims to help everyone respect, protect and enjoy the outdoors. Follow the Countryside Code here.
The CLA has published a dedicated advisory and information page (regularly updated) on the coronavirus here.