The Countryside Code: advice for land managers

Advice for land managers to help visitors follow the Countryside Code.

Know your rights and responsibilities

Know your rights and responsibilities for:

Find out who to contact for further support or to report maintenance issues on your land.

Understand visitors’ access rights on your land

If you have access rights on your land, you need to know:

Keep rights of way usable

To keep rights of way clear, you must:

  • not block a public right of way or public waterway either permanently or temporarily
  • cut back overgrown vegetation from gates, paths, bridges and stiles - this includes clearing overhead vegetation
  • restore the surface of a public right of way if you carry out activities such as cultivation

Access on your land should be easy for visitors with different abilities and needs. Create gaps or put up accessible self-closing gates instead of stiles where there is public access, if possible. You should follow the British Standard BS5709 for gaps gates and stiles.

You should also keep gates and stiles in a safe, usable condition. Before creating access points like gates or stiles on:

Highway authorities are responsible for maintaining the surface of the right of way and relevant signs and waymarks.

Help visitors to act responsibly

Secure gates open if you want visitors to leave them that way. Consider removing the gate if you want it to remain open permanently.

Consider self-closing gates if you want gates to remain closed, or use signs to tell visitors to close gates behind them.

Keep your land free from farm rubbish, which can encourage fly-tipping.

If visitors are trespassing, ask them if they are lost and help them get back to paths or areas they are allowed on. Visitors rarely mean to trespass.

Manage visitors appropriately if they’re acting in an antisocial way. Report:

Make any signs easy to understand

Make signs clear and easy to follow. Too much information can confuse visitors and cause them to do the wrong thing.

Use friendly language if you need to use signs to tell visitors what they can or cannot do.

If waymarking signs on public rights of way are in a bad condition, report this to your highway authority.

Create a safe environment

Warn visitors of unseen hazards on your land, such as:

  • disused mine workings
  • dangerous tides or deep water
  • unstable cliffs
  • livestock movement
  • maintenance work using large machinery, such as agriculture or forestry
  • weirs or sluices

Keep any signs in good condition, or remove a sign if the hazard no longer exists.  Do not use misleading signage, such as ‘bull in field’ if it is not true.

Safely stack bales and logs or wrapped silage away from public access to reduce the risk of accidents. For advice on preventing fire, follow the National Farmers Union guidance on fire safety.

Keep farm and working dogs under control in public areas to keep visitors and their dogs safe.

Do not restrict or block access to a level crossing on your land. This could trap a user on the level crossing and risk their life.

Report damaged level crossings to Network Rail so they can schedule repairs.

Tree safety

Make sure trees and overhanging branches:

  • are stable and unlikely to fall on anyone
  • do not block waterways and create a flood risk

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides guidance on:

Forest Research provides guidance on visitor safety during forestry work.

Manage and protect your livestock

You must not keep animals you know are dangerous in places where there is public access. Consider that visitors might not know how animals behave, especially if they are protecting their young.

Follow the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) advice on managing cattle and public access.

You can use barbed wire and electric fencing to keep livestock or horses separated from visitors on rights of way, but you must:

  • leave enough space for the visitor to use the path safely
  • use signs to warn visitors that the fence is electric
  • not impinge on the legal width of a right of way

You should use plain wire if the public is likely to come into contact with a fence, gate or stile.

If you see a dog that is attacking or chasing your livestock you can:

  • ask the owner to recall or catch their dog
  • chase the dog out of the area or scare it away
  • catch the dog if it is safe to do so, check for an ID tag and return the dog to their owner and ask them to keep their dog under control

Report the dog to the local authority if it does not have an ID tag and you cannot see its owner.

You should only consider shooting the dog as a last resort. You must:

  • notify the police within 48 hours of shooting a dog
  • take steps to make sure the animal does not suffer, this may include catching an injured animal and taking it to the vet

Report any attack to the police when your livestock are no longer in danger, even if you have not shot the dog.

Read advice and guidance about dogs worrying livestock on the National Farmers' Union (NFU) rural crime hub.

Use vehicles and machinery safely

If you use a vehicle regularly to cross a public right of way on your land, make it clear to visitors by creating a crossing point, or separating the visitor from danger.

If you use machinery where visitors are allowed to be, you must consider ways to keep them safe. For example, creating a temporary diversion agreed with the highways authority.

Read the HSE’s advice on workplace transport safety. This document may not be accessible to assistive technology.

Use and store dangerous substances responsibly

Chemicals and pesticides used in the countryside could create a hazard to visitors. You should never store flammable liquids and chemicals where public access is possible. Always keep pesticides in locked storage. Follow the HSEs advice on how to store pesticides.

Be aware of visitors when spraying pesticides near a public right of way. Follow the HSE’s code of practice for using plant protection products.

Use firearms with care

You must comply with firearm laws and consider the safety of visitors.

Follow best practice for shooting near rights of way and footpaths provided by the British Association of Shooting and Conservation.

Know who to contact

Highway authority - to report an obstruction, poor maintenance or a misleading sign on a right of way. Contact your local authority to redirect you to the relevant highway authority.

National Parks Authority - to report an obstruction, poor maintenance or a misleading sign on a right of way within a national park. Some national parks have an arrangement with their highway authority to carry out maintenance. This means they may ask you to contact your local council instead.

Open access relevant authority - for enquiries about:

  • open access land
  • dedicating land for public access
  • restricting access on open access land

National Farmers' Union Cymru - support for farmers.

Farmers' Union of Wales – support for farmers.

Tenant Farmers Association - support for tenant farmers.

The Country Land and Business Association Cymru (CLA Cymru) - advice for landowners and rural businesses.

Forestry Industry Safety Accord - landowner working group for safe forestry. Email:

Visitor Safety Group - consider joining the Visitor Safety Group to share best practice and case studies on visitor safety.

National Tree Safety Group - guidance on tree risk management

England & Wales Wildfire Forum (EWWF) - information, developments and courses about wildfires.


This guidance was jointly produced with Natural England, with limited support from the Health and Safety Executive.


To report an environmental incident, call us on 0300 065 3000 (24 hours)

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