Time to bring back the Countryside Code?

Work place, resource, wild space, home. Recreation, inspiration, mental health and physical therapy. Water storage and food production, fuel and fibre. Heritage, identity, research lab, sustainability. What does the countryside mean to you?

I can’t imagine living in the city. In fact, I can imagine it, and I know I’d hate it. I’m a native of the hedgerow – I’ve grown up on the edge of town, a stone’s throw from the fields. I’ve been privileged to study and learn, explore and be inspired by the countryside all my life. I am certain there are elements of the farming existence, or the foresters day, which I don’t fully understand. I still have to ask questions, the landscape still manages to surprise me. I live in a village now, amidst fields and woodland, and it would be easy to take it for granted, but even then, I can’t for a moment imagine seeing our countryside as anything other than valuable, precious, and a place to respect.

It troubles and shames me therefore to see so many reports, even daily, of irresponsible behaviour in the countryside and greenspaces. I was aware as a teenager that many of my peers didn’t share or acknowledge my views, didn’t see beyond the lens of their screens. As an adult I swing between optimism and exasperation. I try to understand, to empathise, to excuse, but time and again, people confound me.

I can’t change the mindset of a society, alter an attitude over night. I can only share, and educate, show and be passionate, repeat. And maybe a penny will fall, a mind will be opened – if even one person changes their behaviour and develops a greater fulfilment and connection from their time in the countryside…well maybe that’s enough.

Often the response when behaviours are questioned, is “I didn’t realise”, “I didn’t know”. So here are a few things that it might be helpful to be told…

(Edit: I have tried and tried to word this to not sound patronising. And not to sound ‘us and them’. My passion for this and my belief in the good in everyone is conflicting with the baffling stories and images I hear and see, the incomprehensible vacuums of care and respect I keep encountering. To the vast majority of hikers, dog walkers, cyclists, riders, green lane users, bird watchers, picnickers, forest bathers, wild swimmers, families, fitness fanatics, fresh air seekers…. thank you. You know who you are. )

Top 5 Requests:

1. We are huge dog lovers, but our animals and wildlife aren’t. Sheep don’t know your dog means no harm. If chased they could abort their lambs, if attacked they may die. Many species of birds nest on the ground including in fields, on heathlands and on beaches. Some are very rare and special. Please use a lead and stay on the path, four legs or two. Fence your garden. Also, dog poo bags aren’t magic, and there’s no dog poo fairy. Dog poo can pass on nasty diseases to livestock. Pick up and bin, not pick up and fling, or hang, or leave at the side. Even if that means taking it in the car home to your household rubbish.

2. No landscape is totally wild. People live and work in the countryside. Please follow signage for your safety and ours, and please don’t block lanes or gateways with your parked car. Tractors and emergency vehicles are wider than you think. If a gate is closed or a gate is open, theres a reason for it so please put it back it how you found it. Fields have fences and boundaries, open access land is signposted. Some land is private just like your garden. Crops are livelihoods, salaries, food on everyone’s tables. We have better things to do than clear up your rubbish, poo, damage.

3. Please don’t climb over walls or fences, again we are busy enough without having to do costly repairs. If you come across an overgrown path, broken style, confusing signage…report it, we’d truly love to help you enjoy your time in the countryside, and improve accessibility. We love it here, and we want to share it and for you to love it too.

4. Please don’t feed the animals. If they bite you, you have been warned. We also might send you an invoice for the vet’s bill when they get poisoning or digestive illnesses.

5. BBQ’s, cigarette ends, glass and litter, sky lanterns…these things all cause fires. Fires are dangerous and costly. Ditch the disposable, use the ash tray in your car (i.e not the window!), take rubbish home, don’t let go. Please, don’t light up, and don’t let go.

Theres so much to see and do here. Did you know the folklore about the foxglove flowers, or that the bird you can hear singing has flown thousands of miles to spend the summer here, or that a railway used to run along that ridge? These are hawthorn flowers and they smell like marzipan. Those old yew trees used to be worshiped, see the scars on their trunks? Those are from bullets – troops trained here during WW2. From the top of that hill you can see the sea on a clear day. Isn’t that amazing? Please come and visit the countryside. Explore far and wide if you already live here too. Please Love it as much as I do. Please act responsibly. Thank you.

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