The Moorland Visitor’s Code
Heather covered moorlands look stunning, especially in
August and September when in full purple bloom and
people are drawn to their great open landscapes. The ‘Right
of Access to Open Country’ welcomes walkers to ‘mountain,
moor, registered common land, heath and down’ – and with
our rights, come responsibilities – naturally.
Britain has 75% of the world’s remaining heather, and it is these heather moorlands
that provide some of the last safe havens for ground nesting birds such as curlew,
lapwing, merlin, golden plover and black grouse. As a result, the law protects most of
Even though it may appear so, moorland is not wild and looks the way it does due to
management – it is used to graze sheep and/or cattle and, where there is a
predominance of heather, it is likely that the area is managed for red grouse. Moorland
management for grouse shooting plays a big part in conserving one of the most
important and unique habitats in Europe – for us all to enjoy. For these wildlife and
management reasons, at times, some moorland areas will be subject to ‘restrictions’
such as keeping your dog on a short lead and following paths and tracks. Our
moorlands are there for us to enjoy, and by being informed
and responsible visitors, we can all play our part in
conserving our unique heather heritage and its
wildlife for future generations.
Be safe – plan ahead and follow any signs
Even when going out locally, it’s best to get the latest information about where and when
you can go – especially if you are taking a dog (for example, your rights to enter some areas
of open land may be restricted while work is carried out, for safety reasons or during breeding
or shooting seasons). Follow advice and local signs, and be prepared for the unexpected.
- Refer to up-to-date maps or guidebooks,
visit: www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk, or contact local information centres.
- You’re responsible for your own safety and for others in your care, so be prepared for changes in weather and other eventualities – consider taking extra clothing, a compass, water, food, a torch and personal medicines. See: www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk for links to organisations offering specific advice on equipment and safety, or contact visitor information centres and libraries for a list of outdoor recreation groups.
- Check weather forecasts before you leave and don’t be afraid to turn back.
- Be aware that heather can be difficult to walk in and to look out for boggy areas, old mines and holes that can be hidden by the heather.
- Part of the appeal of the moors is that you can get away from it all. You may not see anyone for hours and there are many places without clear mobile phone signals – so let someone else know where you’re going and when you expect to return.
- Get to know the signs and symbols used in the countryside to waymark paths and indicate open countryside
below and at: www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk
No Open Access
Keep dogs under close control
The countryside is a great place to exercise dogs, but it’s every owner’s duty to make sure their dog is not a danger or nuisance to farm animals, wildlife or other people. Internationally important birds such as curlew, lapwing, red grouse, merlin, golden plover and black grouse rely on moorland to breed and are vulnerable because they nest and live on the ground.
- By law you must control your dog so that it
does not disturb or scare farm animals or
wildlife. You must keep your dog on a short
lead on most areas of open country and
common land in the nesting and lambing
season – during March, April, May, June and July
– and at all times near farm animals.
- Dogs will be excluded from some areas of
heather moorland all year round and other
areas at certain times to protect wildlife.
Please find out more about these rules from:
www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk and obey
- From 1 March to 31 July take particular care
that your dog doesn’t scare sheep and lambs or
wander where it might disturb birds that nest
on the ground and other wildlife. Parent birds
can be frightened off their nests long enough
to chill the eggs and kill the chicks inside.
Hatched chicks can be scattered and unable to
return to the parent for protection from
predators and the cold.
- You do not have to put your dog on a lead on
public paths, so long as it is under close control.
But as a general rule, keep your dog on a lead if
you cannot rely on its obedience. By law,
farmers are entitled to destroy a dog that
injures or worries their animals.
- If a farm animal chases you and your dog, it is
safer to let your dog off the lead – don’t risk
getting hurt by trying to protect it.
- Everyone knows how unpleasant dog mess is
and it can be the source of infections – so
always clean up after your dog and get rid of
the mess responsibly. Also ensure your dog is
wormed regularly if you walk it in the
Smouldering cigarette ends, discarded bottles and dropped matches can all cause
uncontrolled fires on moors – particularly during the spring and summer. Serious, deepseated
fires are fatal to important animals and plants and devastating to the landscape.
- Never light fires on moorland – not even gas
stoves or barbecues.
- During periods of high fire risk respect all
warning signs. Following severe wild fires, our
unique moorlands can be left black, scarred,
prone to erosion and devoid of wildlife for
- However, carefully planned small-scale heather
burning by trained gamekeepers is used to
encourage fresh shoots of heather where it has
grown old. This light, surface burning ensures
food for red grouse and sheep and creates the
diversity of habitats that moorland birds rely
on. Between 1st October and 15th April
controlled burning takes place – so be aware of
this. Please report any fires seen on moorland
outside these dates to the fire service
immediately, and if possible, the nearest
Protect plants and animals, and take your litter home
We have a responsibility to protect our countryside now and for future generations, so make sure you don’t harm animals, birds, plants, or trees.
- Litter and leftover food doesn’t just spoil the beauty of the countryside, it can be dangerous to wildlife and farm animals and can spread disease – so take your litter home with you. Dropping litter and dumping rubbish are criminal offences.
- Discover the beauty of the natural environment and take special care not to damage, destroy or remove features such as rocks, plants and trees. They provide homes and food for wildlife, and add to everybody’s enjoyment of the countryside.
- Wild animals and farm animals can behave unpredictably if you get too close, especially if they’re with their young – so give them plenty of space.
- If you disturb a bird from the ground in Spring and Summer, please re-trace your steps a few metres and give the area a five metre berth. This will reduce damage to eggs and chicks.
Leave gates and property as you find them
Please respect the working life of the countryside, as our actions can affect people’s livelihoods, our heritage, and the safety and welfare of animals and ourselves.
- A farmer will normally leave a gate closed to keep livestock in, but may sometimes leave it open so they can reach food and water. Leave gates as you find them or follow instructions on signs; if walking in a group, make sure the last person knows how to leave the gates.
- Use gates and stiles wherever possible – climbing over walls, hedges and fences can damage them and increase the risk of farm animals escaping.
- Leave machinery and livestock alone – don’t interfere with animals even if you think they’re in distress. Try to alert the farmer instead.
- When walking across land that has crops growing on it, follow paths wherever possible.
- Our heritage belongs to all of us – be careful not to disturb ruins and historic sites. The few structures that there are on moors such as ‘sheep folds’, ‘handling pens’ and ‘grouse butts’ are historic and today still serve a crucial purpose
- If you think a sign is illegal or misleading (for example, a ‘Private – No Entry’ sign on a public footpath), contact the local authority.
Consider other people
Showing consideration and respect for other people makes the countryside a pleasant
environment for everyone – at home, at work and at leisure. Moorlands managed for red
grouse, farm stock and as water catchment areas, create year-round jobs for shepherds,
water bailiffs, gamekeepers and moorland regeneration contractors – all of whom
contribute to the conservation of moorland and its thriving wildlife.
- Moorland gamekeepers play a crucial role in the
well being of the moors. Rats, foxes, stoats,
weasels and crows prey on moorland birds and
you may see predator traps or gamekeepers out
with a firearm (sometimes at night too) – both
are there to protect the birds. Remain alert and
please appreciate that gamekeepers are doing
- From 12th August to 10th December every
year you may encounter shooting parties and
red flags could signify areas that should not be
entered, or there may be local signs or estate
staff asking you to move to another area.
Please respect these requests as they will only
be short term.
- Large-scale machinery is rare on moors, but if
you encounter it, it’s likely that specialist
heather re-seeding or ‘grip blocking’ is being
carried out – this is environmentally beneficial.
Similarly, spraying to remove harmful bracken
swathes may also happen between mid-July
and late-September, usually at times where
there is little wind.
- Moorland streams are used by livestock and
often feed reservoirs for town and city drinking
supplies so be careful not to pollute them.
- Busy traffic on small country roads can be
unpleasant and dangerous to local people,
visitors and wildlife – so slow down, and where
possible leave your vehicle at home, consider
sharing lifts and use alternatives such as public
transport or cycling (for public transport
information contact Traveline: 0870 608 2608).
- Respect the needs of local people –
for example, don’t block gateways, driveways or
other entry points with your vehicle.
- Keep out of the way when farm animals are
being gathered or moved and follow directions
from the farmer.
- When riding a bike or driving a vehicle, slow
down for horses and walkers, or when passing
livestock (by law, cyclists must give way to
walkers and horse-riders on bridleways).
- Support the rural economy – for example, buy
your supplies from local shops.
Maps and information
For the most up-to-date information and maps showing where you can
go and what you can do on access land, including details of any local
restrictions and closures - visit the open access pages in ‘Places to Go’
on the website:www.countrysideaccess.gov.uk
This website also contains information about access to all countryside
and has useful advice and links for various types of recreational users.
The new OS Explorer Maps will be widely available in bookshops and
outdoor stores once the new access right has started in each region. You
can also order Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps by telephoning
0845 200 2712 (+44 1233 211108 outside UK). Calls are charged
at local rate in UK.
Both the website and OS Explorer Maps will also show the location of
local ‘Access Information Points’, and walkers are advised to look out for
local signs indicating any closures or restrictions.
|The Moorland Visitor’s Code, which shares the key messages of the Countryside Code, has been
produced by the Moorland Access Advisory Group, with funding from the Countryside Agency,
English Nature and the Moorland Association.|
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