How to responsibly enjoy your countryside walk

As the weather gets warmer and lockdown restrictions are gradually eased, lots of people will be heading out to the countryside for some much-needed fresh air.  

And while we always encourage people to experience all that our countryside has to offer, it’s essential that walkers enjoy routes responsibly, especially when these are close to farmland.  

We’ve put together some guidance on how you can enjoy your walk while still respecting those who live and work in rural areas. 

 

Safety first 

Although the countryside is generally a safe and sheltered environment, it’s worth keeping in mind the risks that accompany any countryside stroll.  

Working farms in particular can pose a lot of dangers, from heavy machinery to livestock. Have respect for farms as places of work that often also include farmers’ homes within them. NFU Scotland reported one walker even entering a barn full of cows with calves with his dog – a potential recipe for disaster. 

If you’re in doubt about anything, such as a broken fence or a seemingly escaped animal, be sure to inform the farmer so they can take care of it quickly.  

In general, follow any signage or warnings, and avoid entering working farms. With the current Covid-19 outbreak, it’s also essential that you remain two metres away from other walkers and farm workers for your own safety. 

 

Canine companions  

One of the best things about owning a dog is going on long scenic walks with them in tow. However, although many people do follow guidance for dog owners in the countryside, a minority sometimes act irresponsibly. This can put both you and your dog in danger. 

Ensure your dog is kept under control at all times and on a lead in public places or anywhere near livestock, and it’s vital you clean up any dog waste and properly bag and bin it. Keep an eye out for any signs warning of nesting birds too, as dogs can disturb or harm them.  

Avoid walking through any arable fields unless there is a clearly marked pathway through them – not only are you trampling on a farmer’s livelihood, you’re putting yourself at risk. According to NFU Scotland, one farmer even reported a case of someone playing golf in their arable field! 

 

Simpsons Malt & MSP grower James Grant Suttie and his dog rum at his Balgone Estate in north Berwick, which welcomes walkers and cyclists 

 

Leave it as you found it 

The golden rule of walking in the countryside is to leave everything as you found it. This applies to the obvious things such as picking up litter and dog waste, and also leaving gates and property as you found them.  

Sadly, farmers often report cases of people fly tipping on their land, which is not only illegal but can be dangerous if the waste is hazardous. Garden clippings disposed of in fields can also have dire consequences – lots of common garden plants, like rhododendrons and lupins, can be fatal to animals.  

There can be serious consequences of leaving a closed gate open – escaped livestock can cause a huge risk to those who encounter them, especially if they are with their young. Basically, if you leave no trace of your visit, you’re enjoying the countryside responsibly! 

 

You can find the full Countryside Code here for further guidance, and NFU Scotland has also created a poster for farmers to display that advises the public how to access farmland safely during Covid-19. 

 

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