New guidelines that suggest people are allowed to drive to the countryside to exercise have caused anxiety among those in rural areas, who fear they may be put at risk by an influx of walkers.
The National Rural Crime Network (NCRN) called for urgent clarification, describing the advice as “hugely unhelpful”.
Chair Julia Mulligan, the police, fire and crime commissioner for North Yorkshire, believes there is now a real risk that many more people will travel to rural towns, villages and countryside.
The guidance, published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Policing, appears to go against previous advice that exercise should be completed close to home to avoid the spread of Covid-19.
Police say the guidelines are based on CPS charging advice and designed for internal purposes, not for members of the public. The College of Policing is quoted by BBC News as saying the guidance “was designed to help officers remain consistent with criminal justice colleagues” when deciding to charge someone.
It advises police that driving to the countryside for a walk is ‘likely to be reasonable’ if ‘far more time’ is spent walking than driving.
However, farming organisations have written to the secretary of state for justice, Rt Hon Robert Buckland, asking for the CPS advice and related advice and guidance, to be urgently reviewed.
Signed by NRCN, the NFU, Countryside Alliance and Country Land and Business Association, the letter says the guidance will make managing Covid-19 more difficult, as well as causing ‘untold anxieties’ among rural communities. Signatories added that they receive ‘hundreds’ of messages a day with concerns about people flouting the law, and there are fears that these guidelines will only add to this.
Julia added: “People need to stay healthy and exercise, but I believe they should have to do that close to their home. Saying individuals and families can travel long distances into the countryside has alarmed many for whom that is their home – it has the potential to strain services in already struggling communities, stretches police resources and even adds strain to the NHS which is working so hard to keep us all safe.
“We know that rural residents can be more likely to be in the government’s definition of ‘vulnerable’, due to age, and are made more vulnerable still by the sheer distance from medical care and lack of infrastructure. This will not help with that.”