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Countryside code chaos

THE COUNTRYSIDE CODE, the new official guidance for visitors to the countryside was updated this week for the first time since the 1950s, amid criticism from landowners who predicted "chaos and conflict" over right-to-roam areas.

"It falls a long way short of clearly explaining to the public about new access land," said Mark Hudson, the president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).

Ian Parsons, the vice-chairman of the Lancashire, branch of the CLA said: "The code is disappointing. It should have said far more about what people's responsibilities are in right-to-roam areas.

"There is going to be chaos, and ignorance is going to lead to conflict. People don't research their day out on the Internet like an Army manoeuvre. Maps could have been produced for sale showing public access land and how to get there from the public highway."

The new guidance, entitled the Countryside Code and superseding the old Country Code, is shorter than its predecessor.

It comes, however, with something the old code did not have: an extensive section for "land managers" telling them their responsibilities towards the public, such as the need to identify possible threats to visitor safety on open access land.

The new code, published by the Countryside Agency, has lost such commonsense advice to the public as using gates and stiles to cross fences, making no unnecessary noise and keeping to public paths, but places far greater responsibility on landowners than ramblers.

This, farmers and landowners say, is because a subtle shift has taken place in the rights and responsibilities of landowners where the right to roam will be introduced, in limited areas to begin with, from this autumn.

The longer and explanatory version of the Countryside Code, set out in a booklet, does include advice to use gates and stiles wherever possible and to leave machinery and livestock alone.

Misleading

The code, backed by public service broadcasts using characters from the Aardman animation company, which produced Wallace and Gromit, also gives the advice that if you think a sign is misleading, for example a ‘Private: No Entry’ sign, you should contact your local authority.

One of the main Aardman characters used to explain the Code is a talking sheepdog who takes a break from herding his flock to say: "The thing I enjoy about the countryside the most is the peace, quietness, space, fresh air, scenery… it’s beautiful."

The advice on dogs is likely to prove particularly controversial. The code says that by law you must control your dog so that it does not disturb or scare farm animals, and that a dog must be kept on a short lead during the nesting season and near farm animals.

However, the advice also says that if a farm animal chases you, let your dog off the lead. "Don't risk getting hurt by trying to protect it."

It also points out that by law, "farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that injures or worried their animals". This gives rise to the prospect of farmers carrying guns on right-to-roam land to deal with dogs that are out of control.

A wide range of groups including the British Horse Society, the CLA, the Ramblers’ Association and the National Farmers’ Union negotiated the code.

However, the CLA expressed dissatisfaction with the paucity of advice given to the public on how to conduct themselves on, or how to find, right-to-roam land that will be available to ramblers from Sept 19 in the lower North West and the Southern region.

Landowners are concerned that local maps have not been printed, or Ordnance Survey maps rushed out, showing the areas which have been mapped for the right to roam and how to access them, though the code does include a website showing how the right-to-roam areas can be checked on the internet.

Pamela Warhurst, the chairman of the Countryside Agency, said: "We want to encourage everyone to enjoy our countryside through the key themes: respect, protect, enjoy."