GOB 137 – Country Life Matters

This article first appeared in the November 2020 edition of Birdwatching Magazine

Given that the majority of people think that access to the countryside is a necessity, and that many more people started needing nature in their lives in the time of the Corona virus, I think that the ‘Country Code’ needs reiterating. In pre-decimal times everything was by the dozen and so it was with the code. Back then you could get it in booklet form and it was considered on a par with the highway code. As we have urbanised, so have we lost contact with the natural world and its rules of use.

  • Enjoy the countryside and respect its life and work
  • Guard against all risk of fire
  • Leave all gates as you found them
  • Keep your pets under close control
  • Keep to public paths across farmland
  • Use gates and stiles to cross fences, hedges and walls
  • Leave livestock, crops and machinery alone
  • Take your litter home
  • Help to keep all water clean
  • Protect wildlife, plants and trees
  • Take special care on country roads
  • Make no unnecessary noise

Seemingly, back then it was OK for your pooch to poo, so long as it wasn’t in a pond. For some reason, in 2004 the code was revised and, I think, dumbed down and made more commercially oriented. Nature is mentioned once, and the rest is more about not rocking the boat of country life. Moreover, no mention is made of fire or water, strange considering how global warming makes wildfires more likely and water shortages more common. Still, ‘The Archers’, could always be used to keep us on track; “Ere, Zebedee me old pal, me old beauty, has you ‘eard of this ere common market agricultural subsidy”.

  • 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

The pandemic (anagram of ‘dem panic’) seems to have made government think in threes, dumbing down the latest version even further. Along with ‘hands, face & space’ we have ‘Respect, Protect & Enjoy’, or the longer version of Respect other people, Protect the natural environment and enjoy the outdoors. The trouble with dumbing down is that they then had to explain it all, so the ‘shortened’ Covid-19 Version code ends up even longer than in the 1960s and the 2004 version! But, then, anything pertaining to the pandemic is full of contradiction and confusion!

Respect other people

  • Consider the local community and other people enjoying the outdoors
  • Park carefully so access to gateways and driveways is clear
  • Leave gates and property as you find them
  • Follow paths but give way to others where it’s narrow

Protect the natural environment

  • Leave no trace of your visit, take all your litter home
  • Don’t have BBQs or fires
  • Keep dogs under effective control
  • Dog poo – bag it and bin it

Enjoy the outdoors

  • Plan ahead, check what facilities are open, be prepared
  • Follow advice and local signs and obey social distancing measures

If one really wanted a pocket version then the environmentalist creed is more succinct yet: ‘Take only photographs, leave only footprints’.

The trouble is, like much since Lockdown, regulations are announced as diktat and ordinary people don’t get to discuss their meanings, let alone whether they are safe, sensible and satisfactory.

Most of us want a greening of policy as we emerge from the virus, with environmental factors outweighing economics. That needs a national debate, not diktat, and, if we want to use the countryside more without ruining it we need to mark, learn and inwardly digest the country code.

Rant it out!