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RESPECTING THE COUNTRYSIDE

The advent of the nature trail as a major countryside amenity is as much an expression of the need to guard against damage to the environment as a new means of adding interest to nature study.

Here is how you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the and the quest for a lungful of country air is placing countryside – and leave behind a beauty your children’s terrific pressure on any accessible tract of countryside.

In response, the managers of Britain’s outstandingly beautiful resources such as National Parks, forests, country estates and Nature Reserves have recognised the needs to awake leisure-bent man’s interest in conservation, but equally enable the crowds to tread the paths where the sights are to be seen and least damage can be done.

That is where the undoubted success of the nature trail lies – it is both a vehicle of conservation and joy to wander over. So popular has it become, that a nature trail is an attraction in its own right at many of the commercial country parks which have become so much a part of the burgeoning countryside leisure market. It is doubtful whether anybody knows how many trails have been established within the last ten years. Some are the carefully orchestrated results of conservationists’ will to control public access to ecologically sensitive areas such as Nature Reserves. Others are the work of a dedicated local natural history group. All are shared by shepherded school groups, keen ornithologists and botanists, lone walkers and strolling families alike.

Unlike any other pastime, the right to enjoy the trail’s environment and spot the many fascinating features detailed in the trail notes brings with it a responsibility to care for all the plants and animals that comprise this marvellous resort. On a nature trail the tenets of the Country Code bind even stronger if its features are to withstand the enormous pressures the visitations of man placed upon them. It is worth looking at the Code point

Guard against all risk of fire

The trees are not just there for birds to nest in – they are an extremely important renewable resource. A woodland which may take twenty-five to forty years to grow to an economic size can be wiped out in minutes by fire. Hundreds and thousands of acres of forest have been burned during the last few years because of the carelessness of visitors and the most vulnerable forests are those with the most visitors — the ones with the nature trails. However, as the big moor and brushland fires of 1976 showed, it is not just the trees that are at risk. Fire scars wherever it is set. As the Australian expression has it: ‘One flaming match, no flaming trees!’.

If you to smoke on a nature trail, sit down to do it, push the match head down into the earth to extinguish it completely and do the same with the cigarette end. Do not leave any glass around – it can focus the sun and ignite any dry material. Stop children playing with matches and fires and if necessary call a park warden. If you find a small fire, try to stamp it out. If it is out of control, call help immediately, and do not put yourself at risk – stay upwind of the fire.

Fasten all gates

Ideally you should leave a gate as you find it -farmers often leave gates open for a purpose.

Keep dogs under proper control

Dogs are banned from many Nature Reserves as they can

In any case the dog should be on a lead if there is any farm stock about. Remember that farmers have the legal right to shoot any dog found worrying stock.

Keep to paths across farmland

Always keep to the nature trail path – to do otherwise would be like visiting an art gallery and walking all over the pictures. The plants and animals can only exist in their present interdependence undisturbed and your intrusion is only tolerated if you stick to the signed way.

Avoid damaging fences, walls and hedges

If you stick to the nature trail paths, you should use the stiles and gates provided for access but if you are striking out into the countryside at large this rule is very relevant. Farmers spend millions of pounds every year making good damage to their boundaries. Most expensive of all to repair and the easiest to damage, are drystone walls. If a farmer can find someone to do it, a drystone wall costs about a yard.

Leave no litter

Litter is not just unsightly. Plastic bags are as dangerous to cattle as they are to young children and even the ring of a ring-pull can could find its way into the gullet of a grazing animal. Do not throw a single object on the ground – take it all home with you or find a litter bin.

Safeguard water supplies

People or animals will have to drink the water which you decide to paddle in or let the dog swim in. Water is a valuable resource not always available for recreation.

Protect wildlife, trees, plants

This is the key to your enjoyment of the countryside. Many species of plants and birds are at risk from the attentions of collectors and misguided leisure seekers. Under the provisions of the 1975 Conservation of Wild Creatures and Wild Plants Act it is illegal to dig up a plant or a tree without the owner’s permission. You can pick some common flowers such as primrose and bluebell

Many birds enjoy the law’s protection too, with fines of up to £500 for the taking of eggs. Perhaps the worst crime of all that man perpetrates on animals is that of subjecting them to stress. Sheer harassment – noise, chasing and dog-worrying – probably does more to upset the balance of nature than any other aspect of man’s intrusion on the countryside.

Go carefully on country roads

Many of the nature trails are in remote parts of the country, accessible only by narrow lanes. It goes without saying that these are not roads on which you can speed along. They are the kind of roads that cyclists, walkers, horse-riders and slow farm vehicles use as well as being roads that are regularly crossed by both farm and wild animals. Keep your speed right down and keep well over to the left of the road. When parking, make sure there is enough room for other vehicles to get by and do not block up farm or field gates. Parking cars on verges can damage drainage systems and help to erode earth banks – try to find a hard standing for the car.

Respect the life of the countryside

The people who lay out nature trails recognise that town-dwellers have a right to enjoy the countryside-but, equally, in bestowing it, the country-dweller demands that he be allowed to live and work in peace. As the Countryside Commission says, ‘The public is on trust in the Countryside and it is up to all of us to ensure that this trust is not misplaced.’

Your responsibility goes a little further than the Country Code. Like any other activity there are some sensible guidelines to follow in walking itself.

Always wear good, stout shoes which are waterproof. On the longer walks you will probably find it better to wear woollen socks as these are much more absorbent and less abrasive than nylon and other modern fibres. You will be more comfortable and less prone to blisters if you

proper walking boots are advisable. These give grip over the rock paths and ankle support which not only makes the going less tiring, it could save you from injury.

These are the few guidelines that will enable you to appreciate the countryside so much more. Britain’s Country Code may seem very unwieldy by the side of that of America which goes:

Take nothing but pictures

Leave nothing but footprints

Kill nothing but time

Both approaches are necessary to ensure that our right to enjoy the countryside is preserved and that there is some countryside to enjoy at all.

THE COUNTRY CODE

Guard against all risk of fire

Fasten all gates

Keep dogs under proper control

Keep to paths across farmland

Avoid damaging fences, hedges and walls

Leave no litter

Safeguard water supplies

Protect wildlife, plants and trees

Go carefully on country roads Respect the life of the countryside

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