The Blue Cross code to the countryside
There’s nothing better than a trip to the countryside – you just can’t beat that lovely fresh air for dusting off the cobwebs. Whether you’re a dog walker, horse rider or picnicking family don’t forget that it’s there for everyone to enjoy and it’s also a working environment. Read our tips for how to have a great day out while staying safe and respecting the countryside…
- Make sure you’ve got an up to date map and, even if the sun’s out, you’re prepared for a change in the weather – this is the UK after all!
- Stick to footpaths where you can, especially where crops are growing.
- Leave gates as you see them – if it’s closed, close it behind you. If it’s open, leave it open because it might be so livestock can move around.
- If you walk past farm animals grazing try not to disturb them. They can be very unpredictable, especially if they’ve got youngsters, so give them lots of space.
- If an animal gets spooked, don’t panic. Walk calmly and quietly to the nearest gate and leave the field. Attacks are rare and chances are they’ll leave you alone once they realise you’re not a threat.
- Don’t feed or stroke any of the animals, including horses.
- If you think an animal is in distress look for the farmer rather than trying to help yourself.
- If you pass a horse and rider keep the family together and stay nice and quiet. Keep in view of the horse but a safe distance away in case anything frightens them. If in doubt, stand still and ask the rider what they’d like you to do. If you’d like to stroke the horse ask the rider’s permission first.
- If you stop for lunch don’t forget to pick up your litter and leftover food – not only does it look unattractive it can also be really dangerous to wildlife and other animals. The same goes for cigarette butts, which are also a dangerous fire hazard all year round.
- Keep dogs on a lead at all times near farm animals – by law you’re obliged to keep your dog under control so they don’t disturb animals or wildlife. Dogs also need to be on a short lead on most areas of open country and common land, known as access land, between 1 March and 31 July when birds are nesting.
- If a farm animal gets spooked, don’t panic. Walk calmly and quietly to the nearest gate and leave the field.
- If an animal charges, let go of your dog’s lead. It’s usually the dog they see as a threat rather than you and most dogs can easily outrun a cow but the majority of us humans can’t.
- If you see a horse and rider approaching put your dog on a lead and ask them to sit until the horse has passed. Some horses might not be used to dogs and could see them as a threat. If you’re on a bridleway it’s a good idea to keep your dog on a lead at all times.
- Don’t forget to reward your dog for good behaviour around horses.
- Clean up your dog’s mess and make sure they’re wormed regularly – this helps to keep them, and other countryside users, safe.
- Keep an eye out for local signs. There may be times when you aren’t allowed on access land to protect wildlife and farm animals. This doesn’t restrict your access to nearby public paths though.
- Plan ahead so you know where you’re allowed to ride and learn what the countryside signposts and symbols mean.
- You’re allowed on bridleways and both types of byways (open to all traffic and restricted) but you’re not allowed on footpaths unless you have permission from the landowner. Don’t forget that if you’re on a byway open to all traffic you could meet a motorised vehicle.
- Leave gates as you found them – if the gate’s closed, close it and if it’s open, leave it open because it might be so livestock can move around.
- If you’re riding near livestock stay in walk and keep plenty of room between you.
- Always wear a protective riding hat and body protector and put fluorescent or reflective items on both you and your horse, whatever time of day, so you can be easily spotted. By law anyone aged 14 and under must wear a riding hat on public highways.
- Take a mobile phone out with you in case of an emergency and it’s also a good idea to let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be in case you can’t get any phone signal.
- Make sure you’ve got some identification on you in case you have a fall and need medical help and it can be useful to have labels with your contact details on in case you’re separated from your horse.
- Be courteous to other riders you come across. Leave plenty of room when passing and stay in walk.
- If you come across dogs that have been put on a lead thank the owner and remember to stay in walk until they are out of sight.
- If you’re travelling, make sure you load and unload in a secure area.
- Drive carefully along country lanes – you never know who or what you might come across around that bend.
- If you meet a horse and rider on the road turn your music down, try not to break or accelerate too heavily and drive wide and slow past them.
- When farm animals are crossing the road, keep well back and follow the farmer’s instructions.
- Don’t block gateways or track entrances when you park – farmers could need access.
- The pace of life is different in the country so just relax and enjoy the view. If you find yourself behind a tractor, keep your distance in case it brakes suddenly and only overtake if it’s safe to do so.
- You’re allowed to cycle on bridleways but always give way to walkers and horse riders. If you’re behind a horse call out to the rider to let them know you’re there because they may not have heard you coming, then pass wide and slow.
- You can cycle on byways open to all traffic and restricted byways but not on public footpaths.
- Wear bright clothing so you can be easily spotted.
- Make sure you’re wearing protective equipment – the ground in the countryside is often uneven.