Farmers vs. walkers: the battle over ‘Britain’s green and pleasant land’

Updated Countryside Code tells farmers: ‘be nice, say hello, share the space’

Rolling green fields with a church
Chapel Stile in the Lake District National Park
(Image credit: Craig Joiner/Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The traditional response is to yell “Get off my land!”, said Sarah Hussain in the Eastern Daily Press. But under new guidance, farmers are being advised to ask trespassers if they are lost, and to offer to help them on their way.

The advice, part of the updated Countryside Code, was published by Natural England last week. It instructs landowners to make rights of way more accessible, to use “friendly language” on signs, and not to put up “misleading signage, such as ‘bull in field’, if it is not true”.

On footpaths, the guidance suggests, stiles should be swapped for “accessible self-closing gates”. If dogs are worrying livestock, farmers should calmly “ask the owner to recall or catch their dog, chase the dog out of the area or scare it away”; dogs are to be shot only as a “last resort”. The Code also advises visitors to be “considerate to those living in, working and enjoying the countryside”, adding: “Be nice, say hello, share the space.”

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It’s a good time “to start a new chapter in the countryside’s relationship with the general public”, said Sarah Todd in The Yorkshire Post. During the pandemic, “Britain’s green and pleasant land has been engaged in its own battle”. People who were denied foreign holidays, with free time on their hands thanks to the furlough, flooded the countryside. “They’ve cycled, run, dog-walked and rambled. They’ve double parked, littered, left dog mess bags hung on hedges.”

It’s the townies, not the farmers, that really need the guidance. Many seem unaware that most of the countryside is privately owned, even in national parks. Awful attacks on livestock are “rocketing”. “Never has the gulf between town and country been greater.”

“Everyone should be able to wander in the countryside,” said Alice Thomson in The Times. “Farmers need to remember that they are custodians of the land”: they certainly should make footpaths accessible, be polite to strangers, and put up a few helpful hints to stop them “being trampled by heifers”.

But it should work both ways. “Farmers aren’t employed by Disney – the countryside isn’t a theme park.” Walkers must realise that crops and livestock are “a farmer’s livelihood”. So “keep your dog on a lead and always remember to shut the gate”.

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