I live for the outdoors and I love to get out hiking as much as possible. In the wild, within nature and pastures green.
Yorkshire is, of course, one of the best walking areas in the UK. Hills and dales, moors and coast.
It has everything a walker would want. Miles of open countryside and pathways to enjoy whilst creating wonderful memories.
With the great increase in people enjoying walking, the extra footfall does have an impact on the local areas with walkers and landowners both having a responsibility to make our great walking areas safe and enjoyable for all.
A small minority of walkers being disrespectful to the land and livestock can create problems for the local people and workers. On the other side there are a small minority of landowners and farmers that create problems for the walkers and thus themselves too.
If you look on a designated map used by the government and highways agencies or even the Ordnance Survey maps, you will see that public rights of way are everywhere.
These paths cross many farms and land owned by people but they are still a right of way. It is important for both sides to work together within the rules to live in harmony and make the countryside more enjoyable for all.
If you own land that you think is affected by a right of way then you should ensure it is clear where the path is and that it is not hindered or blocked. If you walk on the path, you should respect the land around the path and stay on it, following signage.
The Countryside Code
Let us start with the countryside code, a basic but necessary list of guidelines that people should follow when in rural areas.
- Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
- Leave gates and property as you find them
- Protect plants and animals and take your litter home
- Keep dogs under close control
- Consider other people
Let us look at these in more detail from both sides:
Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
Being safe with good planning will enhance your walk immensely. Check the weather and take appropriate clothing (there is a reason Yorkshire is so wonderfully green).
Maps and routes: Plan your route in advance and check that the path has public access. Plus take a map. This will help you to avoid getting lost and to avoid walking where you shouldn’t be.
Signs and footpaths: Most good landowners will have erected signage and stiles to help you navigate and keep you on your right direction, avoiding straying on crops and worrying livestock unnecessarily.
Where there is a footpath in a field, you should keep to it even if it is really muddy. That path may be keeping you from trampling crops that are someone’s livelihood.
If there is no clear footpath where there should be then the local highways authority will need to be informed.
A landowner has many responsibilities too regarding public rights of way passing through their fields etc.
They are responsible for signage. If a definitive right of way map says there is a path, there is a right of way.
If they grow crops in a field with a right of way, they have to keep 1.5 metres clear for a footpath around the edge or through the middle, say diagonally. They should not cultivate right to the edge of a field in this case.
Here is an example I came across that is done really well. Clear for all.
All stiles need to be adequately maintained and clear.
It is actually illegal to put a sign up saying things like ‘bull in field’, just to deter walkers, when in fact there isn’t a bull in the field.
In the same vein, they are not allowed to erect fences or barriers where a public right of way should go.
The highways authority can remove illegal signage or fences that hinder a right of way.
I have seen many instances where farmers have put up signs and fences (or even taken down signs) to make it look like there isn’t a right of way.
I have also seen instances where walkers have taken another route away from the path and ruined crops etc. Just a little thought to the rules from both sides will enable the countryside to be safe and pleasurable for all.
Leave gates and property as you find them
This guideline really is about respect and a social responsibility to think of others as we do in all walks of life.
Please always close gates behind you if you come across them closed. There could, for example, be people’s livelihood in the field like sheep and we wouldn’t want them escaping.
You may not see the sheep on entering but there is always a reason to keep it closed.
Also bear in mind that a farmer may also want a gate left wide open, if you found it that way.
Let us turn to paths. Please stay on the designated footpath that the landowner has made visible for you. Going off the path may cause issues you may not see in that season.
Please use designated stiles to climb walls and fences etc. Simply climbing old stone walls can cause damage and in turn allow livestock to escape as well as create expense.
To help walkers and their right to pass through, landowners should make sure the signage is adequate and all stiles and gates are well maintained and clear.
Clear pathways help to guide walkers around fields away from areas you may not want them straying into.
Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
One of the big reasons we love to get outdoors is to be amongst nature and wildlife. Please do not tamper with it though by removing rocks and wildflowers.
If you are in a field of livestock, do not go towards them unnecessarily or scare them.
Dropping litter is illegal and it should really be good social etiquette to take all litter home. Leave no trace of your presence except the footprints on the footpaths.
Litter is not just an visible environmental mess but it can also be eaten by wildlife and livestock, causing all sorts of issues.
Where possible you should, where possible, avoid having livestock near public footpaths. I know this is not always possible, so helping the walkers navigate around them is always helpful.
Keep dogs under close control
Dog owners must keep their dogs under control at all times and especially so when around livestock. Sheep get worried when a dog is too loose and if they are pregnant this can be an even bigger issue.
If your dog is not under close control and is worrying livestock, the farmer is legally allowed to take matters into their own hands and, occasionally as a last resort, with deadly force.
It is true that on a right of way, the law states the dog must be under close control but there is no mention of leads as some signs might say. But just because you can control your dog without a lead does not mean you should. It is best to play safe.
Open access land has extra rules that are worth reading up on if you are a dog owner.
Landowners have responsibilities for the upkeep of stiles but it is not a legal requirement to make them dog friendly. However, you do see dog gates and latches, where responsible landowners have thought about people accessing and exiting their land without a problem.
Consider other people
We escape to the outdoors to perhaps get away from our busy lives in the towns and cities. It should also be remembered though that here too is a place people live and work in.
We should respect the land as we would expect others to if people had the right to walk through our front gardens at home.
Don’t block gates with cars. Respect farmers moving their sheep and cattle.
Contribute to the local area as you take your walk over their land. Many local shops sell local produce, grown where you have walked.
It is a fact that many countryside landowners and farmers have public rights of way passing through their land. The law states they must help to guide them through and not hinder or block them.
When I have been on walks, the more signage and obvious pathways and stiles I’ve found, the easier and quicker I have passed through enjoyably.
Again, if you see anything purposely hindering a walkers’ right of way, you can contact the local Highways Agency.
The countryside is a wonderful place. And more and more people are getting out into it for health, enjoyment and physical exercise. It is great for our mental wellbeing too. I can’t see any reason anybody would want to deny people their right to enjoy, responsibly, the great outdoors.
If we follow the guidelines of the code on both sides and respect people, the animals, livelihoods and hobbies, there would never be any problems.
Alas, there will always be a small minority on both sides of the arguments that spoil it for all sometimes. Walkers not shutting gates, leaving dog faeces behind etc. Landowners hiding or blocking pathways or making you feel unwelcome.
These are a small minority and there are rights on both sides. It is a matter of respect and education rather than dividing lines.