Enjoy the countryside - but be responsible

Public footpath sign, West Sussex_71335

As the Easter weekend approaches, farmers leaders in the South West are calling on the public not to forget to follow the social distancing rules whilst they are out in the countryside.

Whilst exercise is permitted once a day during the current lockdown, farmers have been finding that, as other outdoor areas are effectively closed to the public, many more people than usual have been out and about on footpaths and public rights of way.

Many of these run close to farm buildings and livestock and there are concerns that walkers ignoring the rules could unintentionally pass on the potentially deadly coronavirus to farmers, some of whom may be in one of the ‘at risk’ groups or self-isolating. People not sticking to paths has led to valuable grass and crops – used for animal feed or harvested later in the year – being trampled.

The South West NFU is urging anyone using public rights of way to maintain social distancing of at least two meters from other people, to follow the countryside code, keep dogs on leads near livestock and pick up any mess, which can be a health hazard for farm animals.

Local authorities across the region are issuing similar advice to footpath users and rural policing teams are aware of the situation. In consultation with Defra, the NFU has issued templates for signage that can direct walkers to a clearly marked temporary route where necessary and reminds them to take care.

People using common land where there are no footpaths – for instance moorland – should also make sure they stick to the rules.

NFU South West regional director Melanie Squires said: “We all recognise the benefits of getting out and enjoying the countryside which our farmers look after and maintain, especially at a difficult time when people need to take extra care to maintain their physical and mental health, but it’s vital we all keep to the rules.

“The health of those living and working in the countryside also has to be safeguarded to ensure that safe, local, high-standard British food keeps coming, and walkers need to be aware of their role in protecting rural people and their livelihoods. It is also a busy time in the farming calendar with plenty of young lambs and calves around and we ask dog owners to take extra precautions when walking through farmland. 

“We hope the new guidance from Defra will help keep farmers safe, and we continue to ask the public to heed the social distancing guidelines, follow the countryside code and use the rights of way network responsibly as we all work to overcome this crisis.”

Current Government guidance is:
• 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
• Take hygiene precautions when you are outside, and wash your hands as soon as you are back indoors
• If walking your dog in areas used by other people, you should walk your dog on a lead to ensure you can safely keep two metres away from others.
(From www.gov.uk/government/news/coronavirus-guidance-on-access-to-green-spaces)



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