Campaign for rural England

Posted by Michael Wale

Joining the Campaign for Rural England to examine the countryside’s future.

Rural BritainThere is a danger of our countryside becoming one big theme park. Or can people like the Campaign for Rural England (CPRE), whose President is the writer Bill Bryson change this?

Bill Bryson was asked by his members to lead a debate on the future of the countryside in 2026. He now wants a national, wider, debate, based upon ordinary peoples views. I just hope the farming population know about this. It does seem to me that the last people ever to be consulted about the future of our wonderful countryside are the people who have to make a living out of it - the farmers.

Bryson lives in the Norfolk countryside nowadays, eight miles outside Norwich. He was brought up in Des Moines, and first came to Britain in 1972. He not only fell in love with a nurse, whom he married, but also with the country. His own association with the countryside started in Kirkby Malham, North Yorkshire.

“It was the Dales," he tells met. "Those who worked in the valleys did quite well dairy farming, but it was harder for those farming on the hill tops. I certainly came away with the impression of how hard farmers work, especially at particular times of the year like lambing when it seems to be twenty-two hours a day.”

It was those days in the Yorkshire Dales he confesses, which made him aware of the importance of British farming. “I don’t want to live in a Britain that doesn’t have active farming anymore,” he says.

In his comparatively new Norfolk surroundings he says that the two people he has got to know really well are local farmers, and yet over recent years farmers have been treated almost like part of a vast theme park. First of all the Government in its wisdom handed out grants to farmers who would ‘set aside’ land, and not farm it. Now they get extra grants for ‘looking after’ the countryside. After a short period the grant ends, and there isn’t enough money to go round, so not everyone who applies to go through the process can be awarded a grant.

But farmers have to earn a living. I happen to favour organic farmers who, in my opinion, look after the soil as it should be, and don’t poison it with chemical fertilisers and pesticides. In my world, organic farmers would receive a grant just for being organic, as long as they were members of the Soil Association. At present you can apply for a grant to turn non organic land into organic land. A process which takes three years.

Already many country villages are being swamped by second home owners, who drive down from the nearest city in their 4X4's every weekend. They are pricing the locals out of the very place where they were brought up.

Shaun Spiers, chief executive of the CPRE told me that his organization has produced the report on what the sort of countryside we want in 2026.

“For some time we wanted to set out a positive position for the countryside of the future," he explains. "Our position on bio fuels is very cautious. We are also suggesting that the farmer’s job must change slightly, encouraging diversification such as more holiday lets. Set against it is a skepticism about prairie agriculture. We want more people on the land.”

“We all have different views about the kind of landscape we want to pass on to the next generation. While we continue to defend countryside from inappropriate development we also want to come up with positive solutions. We want to show how necessary development can be accommodated without eating up too much countryside, and how the countryside’s value as an amenity in supplying food, can help us mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

Now the CPRE is inviting the nation to join in the debate about what sort of countryside we would like. I would say Farmers Come First. I hope many of you will back my view.

Join the countryside 2026 debate on

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