New Countryside Code launched – and Sussex figures welcome new guide for enjoying the great outdoors

Saying ‘hello’ to others, a reminder not to feed livestock, horses or wild animals and a plea to stay on marked footpaths are among the pointers in a refreshed Countryside Code, published today (Thursday, April 1).

Thursday, 1st April 2021, 2:13 pm
Updated Monday, 19th April 2021, 9:28 am
Sussex countryside, photographed by Steve Robards

With more people venturing into the countryside than ever before, the code – first published in 1951 – has been given its first refresh in over a decade.

It has been backed by Sussex farmers and groups including the South Downs National Park and the Sussex Wildlife Trust.

South Downs National Park lead ranger Elaina Whittaker-Slark said: “After such a challenging year, we know how important it is for people to get out into nature and enjoy those uplifting experiences.

Sussex cattle

“The refreshed Countryside Code is a great way for people to learn about how they can play their part in taking care of this special place. We’ve certainly been very grateful to everyone who has helped care for nature and the landscape over the past year.

“We want every visit to the South Downs National Park to be a happy, positive experience for those visiting, those managing the landscape and, of course, the wildlife that lives here.”

The Sussex countryside has seen an increase in visitors since the pandemic began, according to the CLA, which represents thousands of farmers and landowners across the South East.

While visitors are encouraged, South East regional director Michael Valenzia said:“The countryside is, of course, a place of work where the land, livestock, machinery, wildlife and environment must be respected – and a greater understanding of this in the long-term will benefit both farmers and walkers.”

Sheep on the Downs

The new code comes just days after a Sussex polo groom warned of the dangers of feeding animals.

One of the horses Ella Stuart looks after for Nick Clague, in Storrington, was fed a pretzel and a BLT sandwich was thrown into its field.

The sandwich contained bacon, which can be dangerous to the herbivores.

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Storrington groom’s safety warning after horses fed BLT sandwich and pretzel

Reacting to the new code, Ella said: “That’s amazing, I’m really pleased. Hopefully people will see it and abide by it.”

The gradual easing of the national lockdown is expected to see more people getting outside and enjoying greater freedom. Charlotte Owen, of the Sussex Wildlife Trust, said soaring countryside visits would come at a time when ‘much of our wildlife is at its most sensitive’.

She said: “The bird nesting season is now well underway and ground-nesting birds like the skylark are particularly vulnerable, making it more important than ever to stick to the paths and keep dogs on leads. With popular sites under increased visitor pressure, the refreshed Countryside Code is a timely reminder of how to enjoy our fantastic wild places with care and respect.

“Sadly we have experienced a marked increase in antisocial behaviour on our nature reserves over the past year, from littering to the use of trail bikes, unauthorised fires, theft of equipment and sheep worrying by dogs.

“We hope that people will take on board the simple guidelines within the Countryside Code to help us look after these special places and take care of the sensitive wildlife that depends on them.”

The new Countryside Code can be read at www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-countryside-code

Tillington farmer Gwyn Jones, who holds a number of positions in the agricultural sector, said the big message was to ‘enjoy and respect’ the countryside.

“We all want the general public to enjoy the countryside and we recognise the importance of enjoying the great outdoors for mental wellbeing,” he said.

“We are proud of our countryside and its heritage but this is a densely populated country and we need rules and guidance in order to protect it and its inhabitants – people and animals.

“As is always the case, the vast majority of people are no trouble and pleasure to meet but there is a small minority who cause huge problems, such as dog attacks and littering.”

The original version of this article included reference to advice to ‘close gates’ behind you. We are happy to clarify the code actually states: “Leave gates and property as you find them or follow the instructions on signs. When in a group make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates. Farmers close gates to keep animals in or leave them open to give access to food and water.”