JANET STREET-PORTER: Please DON’T smile and say hello in the countryside this weekend

Just when you thought that our pervasive nanny culture couldn’t get any worse, the wet and woke brigade have turned their attention to my favourite place on earth – the English (and Welsh) countryside, with a new edition of the Countryside Code.

Issued in time for the Great Easter Exodus, the most rage-inducing advice it offers is ‘be nice, say hello’.

I want to scream! People are finally escaping from their claustrophic living quarters after a year in lockdown, desperate to experience silence, chill out to the sound of the wind, cows mooing and soft birdsong. Now, they’re going to be pestered with endless greetings from well-meaning total strangers in bobble-hats.

The impact of Covid isn’t just confined to our mental and physical health. This pandemic has spawned a culture of patronising slogans along with a stream of confusing and contradictory advice – giving the undeniable feeling that we (the public) can’t be trusted to get on with our lives without a catchphrase and a lot of rules to ‘help’ us on our way.

JANET STREET-PORTER: Just when you thought that our pervasive nanny culture couldn't get any worse, the wet and woke brigade have turned their attention to my favourite place on earth - the English (and Welsh) countryside, with a new edition of the Countryside Code. Pictured: Two people on a walk in Kent

JANET STREET-PORTER: Just when you thought that our pervasive nanny culture couldn't get any worse, the wet and woke brigade have turned their attention to my favourite place on earth - the English (and Welsh) countryside, with a new edition of the Countryside Code. Pictured: Two people on a walk in Kent

JANET STREET-PORTER: Just when you thought that our pervasive nanny culture couldn’t get any worse, the wet and woke brigade have turned their attention to my favourite place on earth – the English (and Welsh) countryside, with a new edition of the Countryside Code. Pictured: Two people on a walk in Kent

After a ten-year period during which nobody bothered to revise the advice for visitors to the Great British Outdoors, the government has finally spent a bit of money on an online poll completed by 4,000 ‘stakeholders’ (I think that’s anyone ticking a box) to construct these new guidelines.

Please remember, the notion that a Tory Government could be interested in non-landowners and plebs using the countryside for recreation and enjoyment is a bit of a joke.

I write as an expert, having served as President of the largest walking club in Britain – the Ramblers – who fight endless battles on behalf of walkers.

The traditional Tory view of the countryside is that you either inherit or buy it and own it. You use land to make money, claiming as many grants and subsidies as possible, erecting fences and unwelcoming signs designed to deter any downmarket intruders.

Hikers, visitors from towns and their dogs are a horrible inconvenience, unless they are paying you money to park their cars and view a bit of your posh castle or stately home.

A pile of litter in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, after Tuesday's warm weather sent Britons rushing to green spaces

A pile of litter in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, after Tuesday's warm weather sent Britons rushing to green spaces

A pile of litter in Endcliffe Park, Sheffield, after Tuesday’s warm weather sent Britons rushing to green spaces

Please remember that Boris wanted to stick an airport in the Thames Estuary, a wonderfully unspoilt haven for wildlife conveniently close to London. When that got the heave-ho, developers came up with plans to turn the Swanscombe peninsula near Gravesend into a theme park, run by PY Gerbeau, the bloke formerly in charge of the Millenium Dome.

Currently, Boris is trumpeting a billion-pound bridge connecting Ireland to the UK mainland (sod the marine life that would be disrupted). He sees nature as a receptacle for huge ego-promoting projects, nothing more.

The British countryside is our single biggest asset – the most diverse and wonderful environment in the world. It needs love and protection (not just from the public, but from rapacious landowners and commercial interests), not feeble slogans like ‘smile and say hello’.

The Countryside Code was first issued in 1951 and has changed very little since. But in the meantime, the countryside itself has become increasingly vulnerable, under threat from housing developments, mining and other industrial developments. Online shopping has spawned massive warehouses covering acres and acres that used to be home to hedgehogs and wildlife.

You could argue that the Countryside Code and Nature England have been ineffectual, since littering and fly-tipping have increased hugely since lockdown, along with incidents of dogs bothering livestock.

Saying hello isn’t going to magic away the beer cans, sandwich wrappers, discarded underwear and worse that I encounter on my daily walks around Britain.

Instead of talking to us as if we’re at primary school, any rural Code should have more bite. It should ban disposable barbecues outright and insist dogs must be on leads anywhere near cattle.

The government should finance countryside wardens (exactly like traffic wardens) to issue on-the-spot fines for littering and bad parking, for flytipping and leaving dog poo bags hanging in trees and bushes like exotic fruit.

Instead, they plan to splash out just £50,000 promoting this new friendly Countryside Code. I suppose that’s a slight improvement on the pitiful £2,000 a year that’s been spent since 2010, but it seems paltry compared to the £46 million spent on the ‘Get Ready for Brexit’ campaign.

We’re constantly told that exercise is good for us, that we must get outdoors as much as possible. But where’s the joined-up thinking?

When thousands rush to our parks, the police move in and shut them down. Or patrol our beaches telling people not to swim.

Sun-seekers have been seizing upon the recent heatwave and cramming at parks and beaches since 'stay at home' orders were dropped on Monday

Sun-seekers have been seizing upon the recent heatwave and cramming at parks and beaches since 'stay at home' orders were dropped on Monday

Sun-seekers have been seizing upon the recent heatwave and cramming at parks and beaches since ‘stay at home’ orders were dropped on Monday 

This weekend – with restrictions lifted a little – hundreds of thousands of us will explore our new freedom. OK, we’re supposed to stay ‘local’ according to Nanny-In-Chief Matt Hancock, but most people will be heading for the countryside. Easter outings are a wonderful British tradition, along with freezing cold picnics, chilly swims and a spot of paddling.

Most sensible people don’t need a booklet or a leaflet telling them to ‘drive carefully on rural roads’ or ‘stay alert when a right of way crosses a railway line’.

Ninety-nine per cent of motorists know not to block a driveway or a gate – so why employ consultants and experts to produce a booklet telling us the bleeding obvious. Sadly, Nanny culture means advice is geared to the lowest level of intelligence or capability.

Telling us to ‘have fun, make a memory’ begs the question; why else would anyone get in a car, navigate through London’s ghastly traffic-free neighbourhoods onto a jam-packed motorway full of potholes and decorated with miles of cones, to eventually arrive at a beauty spot and NOT HAVE FUN?

Why would they wait hours for a train on a freezing platform with no toilet, hoping to get a lovely walk at the end of their journey – and NOT HAVE FUN?

Soon, we will be receiving a leaflet from Hancock, Whitty and Co telling us exactly how to have fun – because it will help protect the NHS and save lives.

But first, they’ll probably spend a fortune consulting ‘stakeholders’ and commissioning a survey to come up with some guidelines about how to return to normal life, go back to work, eat indoors and go for a walk without making a plan first.

This weekend, as we walk along the South Downs Way, through Sherwood Forest or around the Norfolk coastal path, ordering us to ‘stay safe’ in the countryside is planting another virus in our heads; that our harmless outing could be dangerous.

No it isn’t.

Link hienalouca.com

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