Rural residents call for tighter lockdown restrictions over driving to the countryside for exercise

Campaigners are calling for an urgent review of police guidance on visiting the countryside during the shutdown following concerns from residents.

They said recent advice to police forces that it is lawful to drive somewhere to exercise, including a trip to the countryside, would cause “untold anxieties” in their communities.

As a rule of thumb, police forces were told visiting the countryside was permissible if more time is spent walking than driving to the starting point.

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It was issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and College of Police following complaints officers were being heavy-handed with the restrictions.

Walkers in the Yorkshire Dales

Examples include criticism of North Yorkshire Police stopping drivers to check their journeys were essential.

In a public coronavirus response meeting yesterday, chaired by North Yorkshire Police & Crime Commissioner Julia Mulligan, the force’s Chief Constable Lisa Winward said: “We will be continuing to stop and engage with people about their journeys and assess whether those journeys are essential.”

The National Rural Crime Network (NRCN), National Farmers’ Union (NFU), Countryside Alliance and the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) now want restrictions tightened.

In a letter to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, they claimed the guidance would make managing Covid-19 more difficult.

Walkers in the Yorkshire Dales

Signatories said they were receiving hundreds of messages from residents complaining of people flouting the law.

The letter read: “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, which will in turn put increased pressures on rural police forces and communities.

Human rights charity Liberty has called for careful scrutiny of the wide-ranging powers.

Director Martha Spurrier said: “The Government has responded to the coronavirus pandemic by giving police sweeping powers resulting in some heavy-handed policing. This needs to be urgently addressed.”