Five frequently asked questions from dog owners about the newly updated Countryside Code
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Five frequently asked questions from dog owners about the newly updated Countryside Code

The Countryside Code is something most of us have heard of at least peripherally, even if we live in an urban area; and if you’re planning to take your dog for a day out to the countryside, you should read it and be sure you understand the parts of it that apply to you! The Countryside Code was updated in the early part of 2021 too, so even if you’ve read it before, it is worth having a refresher to ensure you’re up to date.

You can read the full copy of the Countryside Code here, and for a little additional insight, this article will answer five frequently asked questions from dog owners about the latest version of The Countryside Code. Read on to learn more.

What is the Countryside Code?

The Countryside Code is a more modern iteration of what began as “The Country Code” back in the 1930s, and it is a set of rules designed to offer guidance and insights to visitors to the countryside, including agricultural areas.

While the Countryside Code applies to everyone including people who live in the country like the owners of rural land, such as farmers and so on, it is designed largely for people who might not intuitively or through experience know certain things they need to know to keep themselves safe, avoid breaking the law, causing difficulties for others, and generally, avoiding problems.

For instance, people like suburban or urban-dwelling dog owners heading out to the great outdoors for a break!

Some of the guidance for dog owners in the countryside code might seem obvious; like the instruction to clear up after dogs, as this is the law. However, by laying out basic facts like this in black and white, it avoids confusion and ensures that countryside visitors are all on the same page about how to behave.

Ultimately, knowing and following the Countryside Code can help to avoid misunderstandings and conflict between farmers, landowners and visitors by guiding visitors on where they can and cannot go and how they should behave in areas they are permitted to use. This is to ensure visitors respect land they are permitted access to but that is privately owned or farmed; and to minimise the impact of visiting the country, in terms of accidental damage and littering.

Where does the Countryside Code apply?

It might seem obvious that the Countryside Code applies “in the countryside” and it is fair that it makes for a good set of rules for use anywhere in the world when on rural land. However, the Countryside Code applies to rural land that the public has a right to use (this is a complex topic of its own, as there are different types of public access rights and descriptive terms for them) in rural and agricultural areas of the United Kingdom specifically.

Generally, we take it to apply to areas of land known as “open access land,” indicating public usage rights to some degree; and also, Scotland has its own Outdoor Access Code in reflection of areas with broader rights of access, and Northern Ireland has its own version of the Countryside Code too.

Why has the Countryside Code been changed?

As you might expect, there have been a number of additions, amendments and updates made to the Countryside Code since its original publication in the 1930s, with the largest of these being in 1981. The reasons for updates vary; for instance, changes were made when dog fouling in public became a legal offence in the UK, and at various points when public access bylaws and regulations have changed too.

Updates were made in 2020 in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and need to maintain social distance even as the countryside became increasingly more popular with people seeking exercise and fresh air given the lack of other options.

The latest update to the Countryside Code was made in early 2021, to add some clarification on sharing the space, and to provide better guidance for dog owners in many places too, regarding when and where dogs must be kept on leads (even if there is no livestock around) and generally, asserting proper control over their dogs.

Is the Countryside Code a law?

In formal terms, the Countryside Code is guidance, or a framework of rules for common sense; it is not a law in and of itself, so you could not be prosecuted specifically under a named offence of breaching the Countryside Code.

That said, many of the things indicated within the Countryside Code are actual laws in themselves, like cleaning up after dogs and maintaining the appropriate control over your dog, so you should treat it with the appropriate gravitas; which you would of course anyway out of respect for the countryside itself.

What happens if you don’t follow the Countryside Code?

There can be a number of implications of not following the Countryside Code. Obviously most of the time this happens by accident because people aren’t fully aware of the Code and the rules and laws within it, like perhaps who has right of way out of pedestrians, cyclists, and horse riders, or because they don’t know the meaning of different types of route signage and so, where they are allowed to be.

Genuine and minor mistakes that cause no harm might cause anger or inconvenience for others; like a farmer, if you close or open a gate that was not that way when you found it, or if you inadvertently trespass on land that is not public.

Remember too though that much of the Countryside Code does form part of various laws and bylaws; like controlling your dog and picking up their waste, and so penalties in law may follow for their breach. Also, grave but important to know, livestock owners are within their rights to shoot an out-of-control dog that is worrying their animals, and/or to petition to have it destroyed and its owners prosecuted.

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