The Countryside Code

The countryside is for everyone, whether it is where we live, work or walk. But, for too many, the countryside can be a place where they don’t feel welcome, or confident about where to go, how to stay safe, and how to play an active role in protecting it for future generations.  

For the past 85 years the Ramblers has worked to protect the simple pleasure of walking in nature, for everyone. We give people the confidence needed to get out and explore the countryside, and to act as champions for nature, ensuring that our green spaces are protected for future generations.  
 
With more people than ever enjoying walking we have been carrying on that work, helping Natural England to refresh the Countryside Code, making it relevant to today’s walkers, and fit for the future. The refreshed countryside code was launched today (1 April 2021) and can be read here. 

The Ramblers and the Countryside Code go back a long way.  

In the 1930’s, 20 years before the first official ‘Country Code’, and amid campaigns for increased access to the countryside, the Ramblers Association started promoting a code of conduct for its members. This was aimed at helping those new to the countryside feel comfortable when out walking and encouraging a respect for the countryside to ensure that everyone could live, work, and walk together.  
 
The wording may sound outdated, but the messages are familiar to today’s Ramblers. This early version of the Countryside Code encouraged us to ‘Avoid causing fires. Leave no litter. Prevent damage to walls, fences, tiles and property. Close all gates behind you. Keep to the paths through meadows and cultivated land and keep to the right when road walking. Protect trees, shrubs and flowers. Preserve bird and animal life. Save footpaths by frequent use. Pass quietly through villages. Consider the other fellow’  
 

Post-war walking  

By 1945, the campaigns to increase access to the countryside had increased pace, and we were only a few years away from the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act - a ground breaking piece of legislation in the fight for improved access rights.  
 
At this time the second world war was also coming to an end and the Ramblers Association, along with the Open Spaces Society, expecting a huge increase in the number of people visiting the countryside, drafted the first ‘Country Code’. There were both concerns and ambitions for the numbers expected to head out walking. The nation needed to recover, but there was a worry that a lack of understanding and respect for the countryside could cause issues.  
 
The Ramblers’ mission to improve access to the countryside has always been linked with a respect for the countryside, and a desire to protect nature for people to enjoy for generations to come.  
 
The Ramblers Association and Open Spaces Society lobbied the government for a few years to introduce the Country Code, alongside a programme of education. The campaign to improve access to the outdoors was intertwined with a desire to improve education and boost confidence so that people could enjoy the countryside, championing nature on their visit.  
 

The Countryside Code  

Since its introduction in 1951, as an amendment in the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949, the Country Code has been through a number of revisions, and the Ramblers has been involved throughout its evolution. Most recently, following the passing of the Countryside and Rights of Way Act in 2000, the code was revised to include open access land, and became the Countryside Code.  
 
Over the past few months, Natural England have been revising the Countryside Code, and Ramblers staff and volunteers have put forward our view on revisions to make it fit for today’s walkers. Our aims have been to ensure that it:

  • is welcoming for everyone who wants to walk in the countryside.
  • gives people the knowledge and confidence to get out and explore.
  • encourages people to act as champions for nature.   

A refreshed Countryside Code on its 70th anniversary 

Natural England has refreshed the Countryside Code and is celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Code, which was originally published in 1951. The Code is more important than ever, with people accessing nature across outdoor spaces, having the confidence to know how to protect natural environments.  

"The Countryside Code has been providing an excellent guide for people on how to get out and enjoy the outdoors safely for over 70 years. 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."
Tony Juniper, Chair of Natural England

A copy of the updated Code can be downloaded from the GOV.UK website, and at present, messages from the guide are being promoted alongside Covid-19 guidance.