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Coronavirus and the countryside

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Any information on this page is correct at the date and time of writing.

Footpaths and Rights of Way

Please use the following guidance from Defra in order to stay safe when out in the British countryside:

  • 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 2 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.
  • If you have a garden, make use of the space for exercise and fresh air.
  • 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 2 metres away from others. You can find further guidance for pet owners here.

Based on the UK Government's latest guidance, it is important to take extra precautions when out and about in the British countryside. Check out the video below of NFU Deputy President and livestock farmer Stuart Roberts as he takes you through the importance of taking extra care when out on footpaths and Rights of Way:


Coronavirus: Visiting the countryside Q&A

The new government measures permit citizens to leave the house once a day for a form of exercise, which could include walking your dog. Although many public parks and open spaces have been shut, public rights of way remain open. Therefore, walking your dog in the countryside is still permitted, although you must still conform to usual codes of practise such as keeping your dog on a lead near livestock, and sticking to designated paths and public rights of way. However, current advice is that you should exercise from home where possible and not travel further afield for exercise. This means that you should walk your dog on fields within walking distance from your home and should not travel further afield at this time.

We advise you to be mindful of those who live and work in the countryside; consider avoiding paths that pass close to farmyards, homes and businesses, where residents may be especially vulnerable or self-isolating.

Ensure you follow social-distancing guidance whilst walking your dog, keeping at least 2m away from other members of the public and washing your hands as soon as you return home.

Access to public rights of way has not changed in light of new social distancing measures, therefore are still open for use. However, we advise you to be mindful of those who live and work in the countryside; consider avoiding rights of way that pass close to farmyards, homes and businesses, where residents may be especially vulnerable or self-isolating.

Some landowners may have put up signs, suggesting alternative permissive routes that pass further away from homes and businesses

NFU official position: “We recognise the importance of the public rights of way network for maintaining physical and mental health, but the health of those living and working in the countryside has to be safeguarded as well. We would hope that the public will heed the social distancing guidelines and use the rights of way network responsibly for essential travel and exercise. This is a very fast-moving and constantly evolving issue.”

Ensure you follow social-distancing guidance whilst out in the countryside, keep at least 2m away from other members of the public, do not meet in groups of more than two people (except if from the same household) and wash your hands as soon as you return home.

If your horse is kept at a livery yard, you should consult with the yard owner to confirm the position regarding visiting your horse and follow any guidance/policies they put in place regarding visiting your horse.

Bridleways, paths and all other public rights of way remain open to use, and both the Government and the NFU recognise the importance to mental wellbeing of spending time in the countryside.

However, in order to reduce the burden currently facing the NHS and emergency services, it is advisable to avoid exercise that may carry increased risk, such as jumping, hacking alone or working with ‘hot’ horses.

Riding will remain an individual’s choice, although lunging, long reining or ground work are good exercise alternatives to riding.

We advise you to be mindful of those who live and work in the countryside; consider avoiding routes that pass close to farmyards, homes and businesses, where residents may be especially vulnerable or self-isolating.

Ensure you follow social-distancing guidance whilst riding, keeping at least 2m away from other members of the public and washing your hands as soon as you return home.

The importance of maintaining the welfare of animals and livestock should not be overlooked, and owners are still permitted to travel in order to care for animals. If you are the sole carer for livestock, you should ensure a care plan is in place, so should you become ill and unable to tend to livestock, a nominated person will be able to follow the plan and care for the livestock on your behalf.

Whilst out visiting animals, you should adhere to Government advice on social distancing, ensuring you stay 2m away from other people, for example at a yard or livery. Wash your hands as soon as you return home.

Citizens are permitted to leave the house in order to buy food and your local farm shop may have a good supply of essentials.

However, check online before leaving the house where possible: some local shops have chosen to close temporarily during the outbreak, in order to protect staff and customers, and others are changing the way they operate (e.g. by requiring an order in advance or converting to a drive through model). If your local farm shop remains open, ensure you follow their individual guidelines on areas such as social distancing while shopping.

If you are out in the British countryside, given the current climate, it is more important than ever to stick to the Countryside Code. Leave no trace of your visit and take your litter home, keep dogs under effective control and leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs.

You can find out more about the Countryside Code by clicking here.


Click on the image below to download our free social media poster on enjoying the countryside during the coronavirus pandemic.

Enjoying the countryside during the coronavirus pandemic poster_72934





Last edited: 17 April 2020 at 15:35


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