Newly updated Countryside Code to protect people, property and habitats

28 April 2021

Following a consultation in 2020, The Countryside Code was refreshed and a new version unveiled in April 2021, we asked the team at Natural England behind the relaunch about the key changes and we can ensure the messages get where they are needed to help protect our National Parks. 

Why is the Countryside Code important?

The Code provides vital information to help people prepare for an enjoyable visit while looking after our natural spaces. We all need to understand the Countryside Code and the messages in it, such as, respecting others, taking your litter home and following signs and advice. With more people heading out to enjoy the outdoors as lockdown restrictions are eased, the Code is especially important.

What are the key changes?

Key changes include:

  • New advice for people to ‘be nice, say hello, share the space’ as well as ‘enjoy your visit, have fun, make a memory’.
  • A reminder not to feed livestock, horses or wild animals.
  • To stay on marked footpaths, even if they are muddy, to protect crops and wildlife.
  • Information on permissions to do certain outdoor activities, such as wild swimming.
  • A revision, to make it clearer for dog walkers to take home dog poo and use their own bin if a there are no public waste bins.
  • A refreshed tone of voice, creating a guide for the public rather than a list of rules – recognising the significant health and wellbeing benefits of spending time in nature.
  • New wording to make clear that the code applies to all our natural places, including parks and waterways, coast and countryside.

How do you split the focus between physical copies of the code and digital engagement?

We will be continuing to print and distribute physical copies of the Code as well as signage as done previously for organisations that find them useful, but much of our ongoing campaign work focusses around digital engagement as we are seeing greater response from our audiences and more options to target specific messaging around key calendar dates or events, as we did for the Easter weekend and will do for the upcoming May Bank Holidays.

We anticipate higher levels of people visiting green spaces as they connect with friends and family now that the lockdown easements have come into place and the weather continues to warm and so getting messages both as people make decisions about where to go and once they are outdoors is key in getting the Code’s messages across.

How has the updated version landed - what's the initial feedback been like?

Initial feedback has been positive with stakeholders supporting and signing up to the Code’s updates. We will continue to work to ensure the Code is kept up to date and inclusive and we see this as ongoing conversation with our stakeholders and partners.

What are your hopes for the Countryside Code? 

Our hope is that the information in the Code gives new and existing visitors the confidence to enjoy nature safely, forming life-long relationships with the natural world, which we know is good for our health and well-being.

We hope many more people will know of and use the Countryside Code to help them make the right decisions when accessing green spaces, be that a local park, a National Park, the coast or countryside, and that they use this Code to respect, protect and enjoy our natural world.

We want people to feel empowered to step outside and explore outdoor spaces, while being aware of the land around them, of nature and respecting those that live and work on the land. A Code that is truly inclusive, will help everyone enjoy nature in a way that is meaningful to them.

The Countryside Code is one part of a larger effort to protect the countryside, what else are you working on to complement this?

Yes, we are launching a long-term Countryside Code campaign to increase awareness of the Code through 2021 and beyond. The campaign will focus on encouraging behavioural change amongst public audiences to act responsibly when visiting outdoors. Alongside this we will also be reviewing the Land Manager Code and refreshing the technical wording.

How did the consultation reach beyond the ususal suspects?

As part of our work to refresh the Countryside Code we launched a survey and received detailed responses from core stakeholders and were further informed by nearly 4,000 stakeholder responses, which sought views on the best ways for visitors to outdoor locations to help protect the natural environment whilst enjoying their time in nature.

The survey being open to the public meant anyone could respond, so to actively facilitate that, we worked with partners to share the survey with their networks but also beyond those networks via influencers who are already able to access new audiences. Also, through our People and Nature Survey, we have interviewed 9,000 members of the public from different backgrounds to understand how they enjoy, respect and protect nature.

How are you ensuring the code reaches all sectors of society?

We’re working with organisations from a range of sectors, eg sport, tourism and recreation, to support in sharing the Code’s messages far and wide as we know that the best way to ensure our messages reach the right people is to work with those that have direct contact with them.

We are committed to inclusivity and ensuring that people from all walks of life feel that spending time in nature is for them and so are in contact with organisations that can further support this. We know there is more to do to be truly inclusive and as the campaign progresses, we are looking to work with for example the youth sector, Faith Groups and groups supporting people with different sensory needs. Through targeted media handling we have also secured widespread national, regional and trade media coverage for the Countryside Code refresh, reaching a wide, diverse audience.

Do you think a national code achieves what is needed locally - or should there be local variations?

The Countryside Code is there to protect people, property and habitats nationally across the UK and Wales. We urge people to follow the guidance and respect the communities and environment that make up our country.  The code is a guide and if the messages are emphasised and/or clarified for local circumstances as long as the spirit of the code is maintained eg – “Please close gates“ where there is a danger of livestock escaping.

How can we ensure the code has the impact needed to protect our National Parks? Does teaching it in schools have a role to play? What role can charities such as ours play?

We recognise the positive impact that education plays in supporting future generations to have the knowledge required to protect our environment whilst also enjoying time spent in nature. We will build on our links with the education sector and explore further links with the youth sector.

Charites and organisations including the National Parks can support with promoting the Code within their own communications and look at ways to embed these teachings within any resources they provide to the public. We all have a role to play in safeguarding our environment and it’s crucial we work together to share these messages.