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Rules of the Countryside Code

Several rules in the Countryside Code highlight the responsibilities for people who will manage the land and for visitors who access it (e.g. national parks, nature reserves). This section explains some of the key regulations and restrictions relating to the land and scenery of rural areas in the United Kingdom.

How to Find Protected Areas of Countryside

Due to their natural and cultural importance, all ‘designated’ areas of countryside and nature sites receive special status as protected areas.

The protection they get means they will have clear boundaries, and:

  • May be used for recreation or study purposes.
  • Receive further protection by people and through laws to help ensure the nature and wildlife does not get harmed or destroyed.

There are several organisations and authorities that designate these places into ‘protected areas’ of the United Kingdom. They include Natural England, along with:

  • Local councils (and the specific bylaws that they create).
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Note: Certain activities and developments could have restrictions placed on them if they are likely to affect designated or protected areas (e.g. building new roads or properties). The restrictions can also apply to areas close by.

Search for a Protected Area Online

You can check online to see if your business or your home is near to any protected areas and what environmental restrictions may apply in your region:

  • The MAGIC website provides authoritative geographic information about the natural environment from across government. It covers rural, urban, coastal, and marine environments around Great Britain.
  • SiteLink provides access to data and information on key Protected Areas across Scotland.
  • Use Natural Resources Wales to determine which areas of land and seas are protected, the management process, and what you must do if you are an occupier or land owner.
  • The Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) website for Northern Ireland.

You may need to make a specialist search to find other kinds of protected areas across the United Kingdom. They will include certain areas like national parks (or Sites of Special Scientific Interest) and wetland sites.

Further information is available from:

  • National Parks (including other Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty)
  • The Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) for:
    • Marine Conservation Zones
    • Ramsar wetland sites
    • Special Areas of Conservation
    • Special Protection Areas

Checking Protected Area Restrictions

Your local council authority will be able to confirm what type of restrictions, if any, may apply to your home or your business.

But, if you are planning on building a home or opening a new business that might affect a protected area, you may also need to:

  • Get permission to do so from the local council (and Natural England).
  • Have an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted.
  • Have an ecological survey carried out. So for example, a survey of local wildlife will determine whether the planned project will affect any protected species.

Important: Some of the rules and procedures for Environmental Impact Assessments may differ in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Newly Designated Areas

The local council, the Environment Agency, or Natural England may contact you if any new restrictions mean your business is going to affect a newly designated area.

Accessing Public and Private Land

The guide explains how to use public rights of way ‘legally’ and how your ‘right to roam’ allows restricted access to certain areas of the United Kingdom.

Hedgerow Management

Appealing a Hedgerow Notice

The section explains how to appeal a hedgerow notice if you disagree with a decision sent to you by the local planning authority (LPA).

Hedgerows Protection

Check the rules for boundary lines of bushes and how to follow hedgerow regulations when working on, or removing, a hedge.

Plant and Manage Hedgerows

The information in this section explains how planting and managing hedgerows benefits land managers and the environment in the United Kingdom.

Safeguarding the Rural Landscape

Besides protecting rural landscapes and features, certain other obligations apply for people who own (or occupy) a scheduled monument.

Note: The Rural Development Programme for England (RDPE) provides money for projects to improve agriculture, the environment and rural life.

Rotational Heather Burning

The damage caused to England’s peatland formation prompted Defra to introduce new rules on rotational burning management for protected blanket bog habitats.

Appealing a Right of Way Decision

Find out when and how to appeal a right of way decision (using a schedule 14 appeal form) and who may comment on the actual appeal.

The Countryside Code

Respect Other People

  • Consider local community rules and other people who are enjoying the outdoors.
  • Park carefully so there is clear access to driveways and gateways.
  • Leave gates and property as you find them.
  • Follow paths but be prepared to give way to others where it becomes narrow.

Protect the Natural Environment

  • Leave no trace of your visit (the UK has strict littering laws).
  • Do not have outdoor BBQs or start fires.
  • Keep dogs under effective control.
  • Be aware of the United Kingdom’s dog mess law (e.g. bag it and then bin it).

Enjoy the Outdoors

  • Obey any relevant social distancing measures.
  • Plan ahead of your activity, check whether the facilities you want to use are open, and always be prepared.
  • Follow any authoritative advice and local signage.

Note: This is the abbreviated ‘Covid-19’ version. You can download the full Countryside Code PDF on the GOV.UK website.

Visiting National Parks

Many areas of the UK countryside are protected due to their natural beauty and rare geology, plants, and wildlife and biodiversity. Typical examples include national parks, nature reserves, and green spaces.

Note: Another section explains your rights of way and accessing land across certain areas of the United Kingdom (e.g. for walking or horse riding).

National Nature Reserves

Nature reserves can include areas such as ancient woodlands, coastal headlands, and former industrial sites or some inner city areas.

Note: The Wildlife Trusts and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) manage a selection of nature reserves around Britain.

National Parks and AONBs

Certain parts of the UK countryside get legal protection because of their landscape. They include National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (found on the ‘Landscapes for life‘ website).

Green Spaces

You can contact your local council to get further details about any green spaces near to where you live (e.g. parks, village greens).

Countryside Rules and Regulations in the United Kingdom