Coronavirus: 'Country trips should be banned' after police lockdown guidance changes

Campaigners have written to the Justice Secretary Robert Buckland asking him to urgently review police guidance on visits to the countryside during lockdown.

Their letter follows new advice, published last week by the National Police Chiefs' Council and College of Police, which suggested travelling to the countryside to exercise could sometimes be lawful.

The guidance was published after reports of police officers being heavy-handed in their enforcement of lockdown restrictions, designed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

The new advice says that police officers should allow people to visit the countryside to exercise, if more time is spent walking than driving to the starting point.

It says people should be allowed to stop to rest or eat lunch while on a long walk.

However, the advice has angered rural campaigners who say they have received hundreds of messages from concerned residents.

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

The National Rural Crime Network, National Farmers' Union, Countryside Alliance and the Country Land and Business Association all want restrictions tightened.

Together the groups said trips to the countryside were making it harder to manage the spread of COVID-19 and were causing "untold anxieties" among rural communities.

In their open letter to Robert Buckland, they said: "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.

"It is specifically the guidance on length of travel versus length of exercise that is likely to cause problems in the battle against COVID-19 and has a particular impact on the rural communities we represent.

"The key message needs to remain: stay home, save lives. Anything which complicates that message is unhelpful."

The letter comes as the UK is set to bask in more warm weather, which could cause more people to consider spending time outside.

The groups said they had received hundreds of reports every day of people breaking the law.