'A breath of fresh air' - Countryside Code overhauled ahead of Easter visitor surge
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A long-awaited overhaul of the Countryside Code has been published to mark its 70th anniversary - ahead of the post-lockdown visitor boom expected across rural East Anglia this Easter.
Natural England has launched its first update of the code in more than a decade, shaped by nearly 4,000 responses to an online survey.
The conservation body says the coronavirus pandemic has "changed people’s relationships with nature", and the easing of some lockdown restrictions this week is expected to usher in a bumper period for visitors to the countryside.
So the updated code encourages people to "enjoy the countryside in a safe and respectful way".
Key changes include advice on creating a welcoming environment, such as "be nice, say hello", and clearer rules to underline the importance of clearing away dog mess, staying on marked footpaths to protect crops and wildlife, and not feeding livestock or wild animals.
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It also gives guidance on seeking permission for activities such as wild swimming, and reiterates messages added last summer in response to lockdown increases in littering and sheep-worrying by dogs.
The changes have been welcomed by many of the region's countryside groups including the National Farmers' Union, which described it as a "breath of fresh air"
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Gary Ford, East Anglia regional director for the NFU, said: "The Countryside Code has provided useful advice for everyone visiting and enjoying the countryside over many years, but it was time for a refresh.
“We have worked closely with the government and Natural England on the messaging in the code to bring it up to date and to help address the recent increase in access-related issues such as keeping to public rights of way, ensuring dogs are under control and that dog waste is binned.
"We want the public to enjoy East Anglia's countryside and to engage with where their food comes from. However, it is important that this access and engagement is achieved in a responsible way, given that much of this land is an active working environment, where farmers and growers carry out their daily job of producing our food."
The Countryside Code has been updated several times since it was first published in 1951, including advice on how to make sure the farmer does not "regard the holidaymaker from town as his enemy", a warning to keep dogs under control as "small dogs and friendly dogs are as much a danger as big dogs and fierce dogs", and to respect the life of the countryside to "live and let live".
Natural England chairman Tony Juniper said: "With more people than ever before seeking solace in nature, this refresh could not come at a more crucial time.
"We want everyone to be aware of the code, so people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the invaluable health and wellbeing benefits that nature offers while giving it the respect it deserves.”