Farm leaders have written to the government after police said people could visit the countryside for exercise during the coronavirus pandemic.
It follows growing concern that large numbers of visitors could spread the virus – threatening the health of food producers – as well as disrupting farm work.
Four rural organisations have now written an open letter highlighting their concern about the issue to justice secretary Robert Buckland.
Visitors to the countryside are causing “untold anxieties” to rural communities, the letter says.
The joint letter was signed by the NFU, Country Land and Business Association, Countryside Alliance and the National Rural Crime Network.
It comes after the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) issued guidance on what people can and cannot do during the pandemic.
Although official advice is to “stay home, save lives”, the NPCC says people can drive to the countryside for a walk – if far more time is spent walking than driving.
Driving for a prolonged period with only brief exercise is not allowed.
Many farmers have complained of an influx of walkers as people from towns and cities visit the countryside for exercise during the pandemic. Most visitors are behaving responsibly, but the sheer number of walkers has also brought problems – as well as worries about the virus being spread.
There have been numerous reports of sheep being killed by dogs worrying livestock, gates being left open and an increase in the amount of litter.
The joint letter calls for the police advice to be urgently reviewed.
“There are, sadly, a great many of us who believe [the guidelines] will make managing Covid-19 more difficult, as well as cause untold anxieties across rural communities,” it says.
“Between the signatories of this letter, we represent many millions of residents and thousands of businesses. We receive hundreds of concerned messages a day about people flouting the law,” the letter warns.
“There are great concerns that the new policing guidance will encourage even more people to carry out unnecessarily long journeys to exercise in rural areas.”
The letter says this will put increased pressures on rural police forces and communities. “We, like you, want our countryside to remain safe for communities to use and for people to be able to take vital exercise near to their homes.”
It adds: “The key message needs to remain: stay home, save lives. Anything which complicates that message is unhelpful.”