8 Ways to Respect the Environment on Walks
Whether you’re blessed with rolling countryside on your doorstep or you’re planning a holiday to one of the UK’s stunning National Parks, there’s really nothing that beats a long day’s walk in the countryside. We’re sure your enthusiastic tail wagger couldn’t agree more, either!
With the hustle and bustle of 21st-century living, disconnecting from your phone, emails, and a neverending to-do list can feel like a literal and figurative breath of fresh air .
However, according to the WWF, the UK is: “One of the most nature depleted countries in the world and despite nature struggling against all odds to survive, more than 1 in 7 native species face extinction and more than 40% are in decline.”
We don’t want to be the harbingers of doom and gloom, but these shocking statistics do highlight the urgent need for all of us who enjoy the countryside to treat it with care. Respecting the environment is more important than ever and a topic that should be on everyone’s agenda.
To reduce unintentional environmental damage and ensure a continued countryside legacy for future generations, let’s take a look at how you can do your bit as an individual.
Stick to The Countryside Code to Protect Nature
We regard the Country Code as a core around which will grow a body of information about the countryside. As knowledge spreads, there should be much less damage often done by sheer thoughtlessness in well intentioned people.
The National Parks Commission, 1951
There may be some unspoken do’s and don’ts when it comes to proper dog walking etiquette , but when it comes to rural ramblings, it’s worth bearing in mind that there are some actual written rules!
Yes, 2021 marked the 70th year of The Countryside Code. First published in 1951 following The National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act in 1949, promotional material was circulated to support The Countryside Code in the form of booklets, posters, poems, and TV commercials. It contained 10 simple messages for visitors to the countryside that haven’t really changed all that much over the years (and largely echo the advice we’ll be giving further down below!).
All in all, the core guidance remains the same – that visitors to rural areas should take necessary steps and precautions to protect, respect, and enjoy the natural environment. Whether walking on your own or with your favourite four-legged companion, it’s good to get reacquainted with the fundamentals of responsible countryside rambles.
How to Enjoy the Countryside Responsibly
A lot of this guidance may sound like plain common sense or have been drilled into you as a child, but it’s always worth a refresher. And besides, can you honestly say that you stick to this guidance 100% of the time? Remember that these rules aren’t meant to be harsh or restrictive when it comes to enjoying Britain’s waterways, coast, and countryside. They’re simply there to help preserve our wild spaces and ensure enjoyment for those who come after you.
- Use gates & stiles
Where possible, use the appropriate gates, stiles, and gaps when crossing field boundaries. Climbing over dry stone walls or navigating wire fences isn’t only a hazard to yourself, but can cause damage and put farmers’ livestock at risk.
Also, when using gates, it’s good practice to leave them as you find them. If a gate was closed, then make sure the last member of your party knows to securely shut the gate behind them. Similarly, if a gate was open, take care that it stays that way. Farmers open and close gates to keep animals in, but they may also open them to ensure that grazing livestock has access to food and drinking water.
- Keep to footpaths
It’s best where possible to stick to clearly marked paths (even if they’re a bit muddy), and it’s especially important to do so when walking on footpaths surrounded by private property or farmland. This helps to protect wildlife and crops.
Whilst your off-leash pup may enjoy nothing more than racing off through the local farmer’s fields and springing up occasionally like a Thomson gazelle, the crops certainly won’t appreciate it! And in a lot of ways, it’s just poor manners. So make sure that you keep your dog under control, either with a strong recall or a tight leash. Your pooch should always stick to the path where appropriate, too.
Open access land means that you can technically walk anywhere you want and follow your own self-made path. However, footpath erosion is a lesser-known but real problem, particularly on peat moorland. Throughout the Peak District, for example, path erosion becomes a problem when walkers skirt round edges of eroded and boggy areas, which destroys wildlife and disturbs native animals.
- Take your litter home
We’re sorry to have to state the obvious, but proper litter disposal is a must when responsibly enjoying the countryside. As much as possible, you should aim to leave no trace of where you have been.
This needs to be particularly stated because there aren’t as many public bins in rural areas (compared to your local park), so you’ll typically need to be prepared to take your litter home with you. And remember, this includes natural food waste like fruit peel, etc! To be fully prepared, take a dedicated rubbish bag in your backpack so that you can keep any litter separated from your other possessions.
Also, you may not even intend to litter or cause harm, but be mindful on gusty days as the wind can easily blow away wrappers or paper bags before you have a chance to catch them.
- Dispose of dog poo
What spoils a lovely stroll in the country unlike anything else?
Yep, you guessed it, abandoned dog poop!
Whether left in the middle of a path or bagged and hung from a branch, there is no countryside cleaning fairy. Not only is it an eye-sore and disrespectful to others wanting to enjoy a countryside trail after you, but even biodegradable bags can take years to properly decompose (so to make matters worse, it then becomes a sustainability issue, too). Dog poop itself can also attract nasty parasites and cause a health hazard when left on public footpaths, where other people and dogs may unwittingly come into contact with it.
We’re determined to do something about this dirty habit, so if you’d like to join the good fight with proper dog poop disposal, then give us a hand this May by taking part in our big countryside cleanup! To learn all about the #flickapoo movement and how to get involved, you can check out what all the fuss is about here.
- Avoid lighting fires
You may be picturing idyllic scenes huddled around a campfire and roasting marshmallows, but we’re going to have to burst your bubble. Unless you have an exceptionally good reason to do so, you shouldn’t light fires in the countryside.
In certain areas, it’s actually forbidden to do so. But even when there don’t appear to be any regulations in force either way, it’s unwise. Prolonged dry periods in the UK mean that moorland can be particularly susceptible to wildfires, which can cause habitat devastation and undue strain on emergency services. Not good.
- Don’t make a racket
Shh! We don’t mean you can’t make any noise at all, but please do be respectful of the enjoyment of other walkers and keep noise levels to a minimum in rural areas.
Not only is it common courtesy, but you should be mindful that you are trampling through the homes of many animals – some small and some big. Wild prey animals will be startled by loud noises they’re not used to, which may cause them to disrupt their behaviour, move territory, and even put their lives at risk.
It’s also more respectful to farm animals to give them a wide berth and not make any sudden noises or movements. Especially when looking after their babies, they may react unexpectedly or even violently, which only puts yourself and them at risk.
- Leave wildflowers be
It may be tempting when surrounded by a sea of bluebells or a bank of cowslips to pick a posy of wildflowers. However, some flowers are rare, and in certain cases, maybe even a protected species. It’s therefore destructive towards native habitats, but could even result in a reprimand or fines.
Remember that some plants and flowers could even be toxic – best to enjoy these beautiful blooms from a distance.
- Take public transport
Responsible walkers should consider their chosen mode of transport. Rather than driving a single car to your countryside destination and contributing to further carbon emissions and pollution, why not see what public transport options there are? For example, there are many local buses in National Park areas that will drop you off exactly where you need to go. It also means that you can do linear walks (i.e. walk in a straight line back to the car), which allows you to cover more varied ground on your hikes.
Alternatively, there may be a nearby park-and-ride scheme for more popular natural tourist destinations and points of interest. You could also consider car sharing if you’re part of a rambling group.
Respect, Protect & Enjoy Our Beautiful Countryside
When enjoying a rural setting, keep this mantra from The Countryside Code in mind: “Respect, Protect and Enjoy.” Oh, and as well as respecting the environment, remember to also respect your fellow walkers! Don’t be afraid to say hello, be considerate towards others, and share the space in a way in which you would want also want to be treated.
If we want areas of natural beauty to remain unspoiled, then it’s up to us to play our own individual part in making this a priority. So make sure to follow these straightforward tips when you’re out and about on your favourite dog-walking trails, and you can’t go far wrong!