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The Countryside Code

Be safe - plan ahead and follow any signs


  • Refer to up-to-date maps or guidebooks. Check out Places to enjoy for more information.

  • You're responsible for your own safety and for others in your care, so be prepared for changes in weather and other events.

  • Countryside Directory has a list of organisations offering specific advice on equipment and safety, or contact visitor information centres and libraries for a list of outdoor recreation groups.

  • Check weather forecasts before you leave, and don't be afraid to turn back. Countryside Directory has information on this.

  • Part of the appeal of the countryside is that you can get away from it all. You may not see anyone for hours and there are many places without clear mobile-phone signals, so let someone else know where you're going and when you expect to return.

  • Get to know the signs and symbols used in the countryside to show paths and open countryside.

Footpath waymark
Footpath waymark

Bridleway waymark
Bridleway waymark

Byway waymark
Byway waymark

National Trails
National Trails

Open Access
Open Access

Leave gates and property as you find them


  • 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 or follow instructions on signs; if walking in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.

  • If you think a sign is illegal or misleading, for example, a 'Private - No Entry' sign on a public footpath, contact the local authority.

  • Follow paths across land that has crops growing on it, wherever possible.

  • Use gates and stiles wherever possible - climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.

  • Our heritage belongs to all of us - be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites.

  • Leave machinery and livestock alone - don't interfere with animals even if you think they're in distress. Try to alert the farmer instead.

Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home


  • Litter and leftover food doesn't just spoil the beauty of the countryside, it can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals and can spread disease - so take your litter home with you. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.

  • Discover the beauty of the natural environment and take special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife, and add to everybody's enjoyment of the countryside.

  • Wild animals and farm animals can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they're with their young - so give them plenty of space.

  • Fires can be as devastating to wildlife and habitats as they are to people and property - so be careful not to drop a match or smouldering cigarette at any time of the year. Sometimes, controlled fires are used to manage vegetation, particularly on heaths and moors between October and early April, so please check that a fire is not supervised before calling 999.

Keep dogs under close control


  • 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 1 March and 31 July, and at all times near farm animals.

  • You do not have to put your dog on a lead on public paths as long as it is under close control. But as a general rule, keep your dog on a lead if you cannot rely on its obedience. By law, farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worries their animals.

  • If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it is safer to let your dog off the lead - don't risk getting hurt by trying to protect it.

  • Take particular care that your dog doesn't scare sheep and lambs or wander where it might disturb birds that nest on the ground and other wildlife - eggs and young will soon die without protection from their parents.

  • Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is and it can cause infections - so always clean up after your dog and get rid of the mess responsibly. Also make sure your dog is wormed regularly.

  • At certain times dogs may not be allowed on some areas of open land or may need to be kept on a lead. Please follow any signs. You can also find out more by clicking this link Open Access or by phoning the Open Access Helpline on 0845 100 3298.

Consider other people


  • Busy traffic on small country roads can be unpleasant and dangerous to local people, visitors and wildlife - so slow down and, where possible, leave your vehicle at home, consider sharing lifts and use alternatives such as public transport or cycling. For public transport information, phone Traveline on 0870 608 2608.

  • Respect the needs of local people - for example, don't block gateways, driveways or other entry points with your vehicle.

  • When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow down for horses, walkers, and livestock and give them plenty of room. By law, cyclists must give way to walkers and horseriders.

  • 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.

Natural England


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