Aberdeenshire Council urges communities to stay local during initial phase of lockdown easing

Communities across Aberdeenshire are being urged to follow the latest public health advice following the publication of the Scottish Government’s phased approach to easing lockdown restrictions while still suppressing coronavirus.

The routemap unveiled last week gives details of a gradual four-phase move out of the current state of lockdown.

During the introduction of Phase 1 on Friday (May 29) a number of changes to the rules are to be made including the way we see family and friends and greater opportunities for outdoor leisure and exercise.

In terms of meeting family and friends, the changes to the regulations will permit people to use public outdoor spaces for recreational purposes, for example to sit in a public space. One household will be permitted to meet up with another household outdoors, in small numbers of up to 8 as a guideline, including in gardens, but with physical distancing required.

People will also be permitted to travel short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise, but the advice is to stay within a short distance of your local community - broadly within five miles - and travel on foot or cycle where possible.

The aim is to allow unrestricted outdoors exercise while still adhering to physical-distancing measures and non-contact outdoor activities in the local area such as golf, hiking, canoeing, outdoor swimming and angling – remaining consistent with the wider rules and guidance applicable to any activity in this phase.

In this phase, the Scottish Government is also planning the gradual opening of drive-thru food outlets as well as the re-opening of garden centres and plant nurseries with physical distancing. Associated cafes – ie those in garden centres – should not reopen at this stage except for takeaway.

No decision has yet been taken on Phase 2 which may allow people to drive locally for leisure and exercise purposes and enable pubs and restaurants to open outdoor spaces with physical distancing and increased hygiene routines.

Following due guidance, Aberdeenshire Council currently has no plans to re-open toilet facilities at any of its parks or attractions and is warning against any travel in excess of that recommended by the Scottish Government.

Echoing messages from many groups including Scottish National Heritage and the Cairngorms National Park Authority, our key message is: 
 
Stay local
By exercising near our own communities, we can help reduce the spread of the disease and the pressure on rural communities and emergency services.
 
Plan ahead
Some hotspots could be busy and facilities such as car parks, shops and toilets may be closed or access reduced, so plan ahead before setting out – including checking the relevant website for your destination.
 
Be responsible
Take extra care to follow the Scottish Outdoor Access Code, especially on farmland, and abide by the latest guidance, including on hygiene and physical distancing.
 
Take it easy
Support our NHS, emergency services and rescue teams during this challenging time by avoiding riskier outings.

Council Leader, Cllr Jim Gifford, said: “While the easing of the lockdown arrangements is to be welcomed, it is vital that we ensure we all fully understand the guidelines before we emerge back into our communities.

“The route map clearly sets out that residents will be allowed to travel only very short distances for outdoor leisure and exercise purposes – and by means of walking, wheel and cycle wherever feasibly possible.

“What we do not want to see is an influx of visitors across the Aberdeenshire countryside causing congestion at our country parks, woodlands, uplands and coastal areas and the wider road network.

“Many of these very popular attractions and trails have pinch points which could seriously jeopardise physical-distancing. Furthermore, with the toilets we operate at many of these outdoor attractions remaining closed and with retail outlets largely doing the same, this could cause many people discomfort if they travel too far from home.”

Meanwhile, Aberdeenshire Council’s Outdoor Access teams and Countryside Ranger Service are stressing the need for residents to behave responsibly if they do venture out.

While keeping active and getting outdoors is very important for our health and wellbeing, it is crucial we consider the pressure on our rural communities, popular recreation sites and on our health and emergency services.

This is also a very busy time of year for farmers and land managers with lambing still taking place and young livestock, cows with calves and new crops in the fields. It’s always important to respect the health and safety of farmers and other rural workers and particularly so at this time.

You should follow any reasonable requests and signs to avoid farmyards, fields with pregnant/young livestock, crops and other busy working areas. Try to avoid touching surfaces and if possible, plan a route that avoids gates.

If you have a dog, keep it on a lead when on farmland. Scottish Government guidance for owners of companion animals and livestock indicates that dogs from self-isolating households should be kept on a lead at all times, avoiding contact with other people and animals.

In recent weeks, the council’s outdoor access officers have also become aware of many inappropriate signs and obstructions which have appeared on popular access routes and paths.

The rights of responsible access to most land in Scotland, including paths, tracks and waterways, continues to apply during this time. Our access rights depend on responsible behaviour, both by the public and land managers. This is particularly important at present when many people are accessing new and unfamiliar local areas for their daily outdoor exercise.

It must also be stressed that you should not light fires or BBQs in the countryside as there is a high fire risk due to the dry and hot conditions.

You can find lots more information about rights and responsibilities in Scotland’s Outdoors in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code or you can contact the local Outdoor Access team at outdoor.access@aberdeenshire.gov.uk