Survey highlights need for review of countryside code

Almost 90 per cent of those taking to Scotland’s fields, hills and mountains are breaking the countryside code when they go out walking – but the vast majority are doing so without realising, a new report has revealed.

NFU Scotland vice president Robin Traquair
NFU Scotland vice president Robin Traquair

A survey of 2,000 walkers investigated the knowledge of those taking access to rural parts of Scotland, and the UK as a whole, and asked what they did to protect their favourite natural landscapes.

But the survey, which was carried out for the outdoor clothing manufacturer, Rohan, showed that the most common way that walkers breached the code, which advises people on how to enjoy and protect the countryside by acting responsibly, was by going through an open gate and then closing it behind them (46 per cent).

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The poor levels of understanding of the code backed up a recent call made by NFU Scotland to update the now 17 year-old Scottish Outdoor Access Code – which sets out the rights of responsible access and provides practical guidance for both landowners and the public – in light of the huge surge in access taking noted since the Covid pandemic. The union said that its own separate survey of members, conducted late last year, highlighted that Scotland’s farmers and crofters considered that the Scottish Outdoor Access Code was no longer effective for landowners. The union added that a review was required to offer modernised guidance that fitted the scale and type of access which had seen a huge surge both during and since the Covid pandemic.

“The Code has not been formally reviewed for 17 years since it was first approved by Scottish Parliament in 2004.

"The past couple of years of increased access have shown that more needs to be done to protect Scottish farmers and crofters’ ability to safely produce the high quality, sustainable food and drink expected by consumers,” said union vice president Robin Traquair, speaking earlier in the year.“The Scottish Countryside is a beautiful working environment, and to protect it for all who want to enjoy it NFU Scotland have been discussing the issues with members of the Scottish Parliament and a range of stakeholders and seeking a review of the Access Code to bring it up to date.”

However, the Rohan study found that the majority of those breaking the code did so unknowingly – with just one in eight (12 per cent) of the 2,000 respondents said they knew exactly what the guidelines involve, and almost half (47 per cent) admitting to no knowledge at all.

While the survey was carried out across the UK, it indicated that Glasgow residents had a better understanding of the code than their Edinburgh counterparts.

Almost 15 per cent of the Dear Green Place’s resident claimed to have a firm grasp of the contents, while less than half that figure claimed a similar level of knowledge in the country’s capital city.

Unsurprisingly, people who walked frequently were far more aware of the Code than those who didn’t. But while millennials and Gen Z were the most likely generations to have some awareness of the code, they also admitted to breaking its rules more than any other age group.

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