Every year, as we emerge from the dark winter months, I find pleasure in seeing the green shoots of spring everywhere you look in the countryside. With the longer days that come with the lighter evenings, it is an ideal time for everyone to get out and explore the wonderful British countryside. It is also an ideal opportunity for young people to engage with the natural environment and enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits of the great outdoors.
The Countryside Code, which is there to benefit the public and land managers, offers advice on how you can enjoy your visit to the countryside and how to protect it by acting responsibly. Its key messages of respecting everyone, protecting the environment and enjoying the outdoors are relevant for us all, but they are particularly important for young people to understand, so they can grow up with a full appreciation of how to behave when in the countryside.
For several years now, the CLA has called for the Countryside Code to be taught in schools as part of the national curriculum. This is yet to happen, so to help schools and youth groups fill this gap the CLA partnered with LEAF Education to develop a free resource pack for teachers and youth group leaders to help them show young people how to behave safely and responsibly in the countryside.
You will find the resources on the CLA website here and there is a wealth of activities to engage with. Everything from identifying signs and footpaths to an exercise about the risks of sky lanterns. The countryside is a working environment, where farmers and land managers produce world-class food to the highest environmental and welfare standards, and it’s important that young people learn how to enjoy their time here safely and responsibly. At CLA we aim to help them do that. On Day two of the Suffolk Show we will have Countryside Code activities available for Children on our Family afternoon (link), as well as refreshments for all.
Whilst we wholly promote people getting out in to the countryside, it needs to be in the appropriate place and at the appropriate time, to ensure safety, impact of wildlife and biodiversity and on crops and businesses is recognised. This is why we have written to Sir Keir Starmer calling on him to scrap his promise of an English Right to Roam Act in the event of a Labour government. I also discussed this when I met with Shadow Farming Minister Daniel Ziechner a few weeks’ ago. We already have 140,000 miles of public footpaths in England and Wales, as well as 3.5m acres of public access land and significantly more in permissive access. See more details here.
We are also discussing how to ensure responsible access in the countryside, including support under ELM, at the next round of branch committees, which start this week. The CLA believes there is an alternative to right to roam, namely responsible access based on a voluntary, incentivised and permissive approach. If you have any examples of costs you have incurred in association with permissive or public access, please do let us know, to assist us with evidence in our lobbying work.