Headlines: September 9th, 2005

Environmental campaigners are painting a stark picture of an England a generation from now with no real countryside. A report today from the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England says that the picture could become reality unless current development trends are reversed and it sets out broad policy hopes for change.The report “Your countryside, your choice” looks at the major influences on the landscape and their likely long-term effects on the character and extent of the country. It opens with a portrait of England in 2035 when the countryside as we understand it today has all but disappeared.

In what it calls ‘a damages assessment’ of the countryside it sees as being under attack, the report points to the fact that the volume of traffic on rural roads is growing faster than in urban areas and says 21 square miles of countryside – an area the size of Southampton – is lost to development every year. Alongside that, the report says, that in the last 16 years 60% of the English landscape has changed in ways ‘inconsistent’ with its traditional character, many species of farmland birds are in steep decline and 81,500 farmers and farm workers left the land between 1995 and 2004.

The report goes on to identify serious future long term threats to the countryside, including a greatly expanded house building programme and the land speculation that would go with it, a big growth in road freight distribution and car-dependent development, major airport expansion and a dramatic decline in farming. At the same time it sees climate change threatening to undermine the long established natural processes at work in the countryside.

Tom Oliver, CPRE’s Head of Rural Policy said the countryside could not go on being seen as a limitless resource that was infinitely able to recover from repeated damage. “Whether it’s the prospect of a new generation of roads and airports carving up what’s left of the countryside, rampant new housing schemes put up with little thought to the environmental consequences, or the abandonment of farming to the tender mercies of world markets alone, the present direction of many official policies is grim,” he said.

CPRE is calling on the Government to commit to five broad policy objectives to help secure the future of the countryside. It wants a redoubling of efforts to promote efficient use of land for housing, a regional policy that respects environmental capacity, an end to the policy of ‘predict and provide’ for national and regional airport capacity, encouragement of local food and commodity procurement and continued funding for farmers to manage the countryside.