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Coronavirus: Vital farm workforce must be protected as people exercise in the countryside

PUBLISHED: 13:41 30 March 2020 | UPDATED: 13:41 30 March 2020

NFU East Anglia says more people are using farm footpaths to get some outdoor exercise during the coronavirus lockdown.  Picture: James Bass

NFU East Anglia says more people are using farm footpaths to get some outdoor exercise during the coronavirus lockdown. Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk © 2013

Farmers have urged the public not to ignore social distancing rules while exercising in the countryside, in order to protect the industry producing vital food during the coronavirus crisis.

Government advice for the lockdown allows people to leave their homes once a day for exercise which it says is still “important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing”.

But while many areas of the countryside are now effectively closed to the public – including coastal car parks, nature reserves, stately homes and gardens – farmers have seen significant increases in people making greater use of footpaths instead.

Farming leaders are urging anyone using public rights of way to ensure they maintain social distancing requirements, especially when walking near or through farmyards, and to follow the countryside code to keep dogs on leads near livestock.

It also asks people to remember that many farmers are older, with some among the 1.5 million people identified at being of greater risk from Covid-19.

Rob Wise, environment adviser for the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) in East Anglia, said: “We all recognise there are multiple health and wellness benefits to getting out and enjoying the countryside but it’s absolutely vital we all heed guidance during these difficult times.

“The government has introduced new powers to reduce social gatherings and limit outdoor pursuits and these should be followed. Keeping to the rules will help protect all of us, including the farmers who are working so hard to produce our food, and their livestock.”

READ MORE: Could wartime-style ‘Pick For Britain’ campaign solve seasonal farmworker shortage?

The NFU has produced a poster containing advice and information for anyone going out into the countryside, and is also liaising with local authorities with responsibility for public rights of way across the region, who are issuing similar messages.

Government advice for outdoor exercise includes:

• Stay local and use open spaces near to your home where possible – do not travel unnecessarily

• You should only go outside alone or with members of your own household

• Keep at least two metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times

• Gatherings of more than two in parks or other public spaces have been banned and the police will enforce this

• If you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air.

• Take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors.

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