MANY more of us have taken to walking in the countryside since the first coronavirus lockdown in March last year.

Some of us will have swapped the gym for the outdoors, have found being outside is actually a lot better than exercising indoors and may well never return to the gym.

It’s not rocket science. Unbelievably, fresh air, long distance views, trees and birdsong has a calming effect.

I’ve walked well over a thousand miles in the last year and all of them in a 25 mile radius of where I live in West Craven.

I’m fortunate enough to have lots of excellent walking on my doorstep and am not too far from the well signposted Pennine Way. Other paths are less well signposted and so, one has to take a map and know how to read it. It’s no good relying on an app when there are plenty of places where reception is poor, or non-existent - large parts of the Yorkshire Three Peaks for one.

There is also the issue of disappearing rights of way. What may well start out as a well signposted route on one farmer or landowner’s land can change. It takes a confident walker to stride out across a field with no visible sign - although you know the path is there - or even worse, to enter into a farmyard, where more often than not is a very vocal sheepdog on a chain. Farmers asked about paths can be friendly and helpful, others not so - perhaps fed up with lost walkers leaving gates open. I’ve also come across a path that has disappeared because it passes next to a new cattle shed, and when reported to the highways authority told it was a very remote path and rarely used, but would be checked out, once the coronavirus restrictions were lifted.

It naturally follows that along with the increased numbers of people heading into the countryside is the visitor who does not know how to behave. This person drops litter, wanders off the rights of way, leaves gates open, and frightens sheep and ground-nesting birds by letting their dog run free.

Just more than a year ago, I came across a family whose loose running spaniel had just killed a duck which had been sitting on its nest. The duck had remained on the nest to protect the eggs that had just begun to hatch. The dog killed the duck and was in the process of eating the eggs when its owners pulled it away.

From the beginning of March, owners of privately owned moorland in the area insist that dogs be kept on leads, to protect the ground nesting birds, which is sensible, who has not seen the curlew, lapwings and oyster catchers in the last few weeks. What is perhaps hard to understand is why are these same heather moorlands burnt at the same time - are the birds not put off by fire and smoke as much as dogs off leads?

It is therefore very timely that a new refreshed Countryside Code has just been published, 70 years since the first one came out in 1951.

The Code sets out to allow people of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy the health and wellbeing benefits that nature offers, while giving it the respect it deserves.

Launched on April 1 by Natural England and Natural Resources Wales, the code has been revised to help people enjoy the countryside in a safe and respectful way.

The update - the first in more than a decade - has been shaped by nearly 4,000 stakeholder responses to an online survey, which sought views on best practices for visiting the countryside and protecting the natural environment, and saw a huge response.

Changes include advice on being more welcoming, such as saying hello to fellow visitors, whether they be on foot, bike or horse.

There are also clearer rules o underline the importance of staying on footpaths and not to feed livestock and advice on how to seek permissions for activities such as wild swimming.

Visitors are advised not to park where they will block entrances, or routes for emergency vehicles, and to take litter home.

And, crucially, there are clearer rules on clearing up after dogs to take poo home if there are no public bins, and wherever you happen to be in the countryside, and dispose of it there.

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said:“The Countryside Code has been providing an excellent guide for people on how to get out and enjoy the outdoors safely for over 70 years.

“With more people than ever before seeking solace in nature, this refresh could not come at a more crucial time. We want everyone to be aware of the Code, so people of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy the invaluable health and wellbeing benefits that nature offers, while giving it the respect it deserves.”

To see the new code, visit: