Change in the countryside: reasons to be cheerful

Here is my column from the next issue of the Countryman, making the point that however much we bemoan change, some things in the countryside really have got better. I’d love to have views and further suggestions, either in blog comments or tweets to @cpre or @shaunspiers1.

Next year sees the sixtieth anniversary of W. G. Hoskins’s great work, The Making of the English Landscape. It concludes with a wonderful jeremiad on how every change to the English landscape since the late nineteenth century has ‘uglified it or destroyed its meaning, or both…. Barbaric England of the scientists, the military men, and the politicians: let us turn away and contemplate the past before all is lost to the vandals.’

I am sure many of us share both Hoskins’s rage at the ‘uglification’ of the countryside and his nostalgia for a better past.

However, while CPRE exists largely to stop bad things happening, it is also part of our charitable purpose to make things better. And some things really have got better in the countryside in recent years. Here is my baker’s dozen, in no particular order. Can you suggest others?

  1. Pubs are still closing – but with the growth of micro-breweries the beer is better in those that remain.
  2. So is the food. Local food is fighting back, helping communities and landscapes.
  3. Hedgerows, were destroyed at an alarming rate after the war. They are slowly returning.
  4. And other farming practices have improved, partly as a result of changes to the rarely praised Common Agricultural Policy.
  5. Environmental charities and enlightened farmers are managing the land for nature, as well as to grow food.
  6. There is more woodland, including the National Forest and several community forests.
  7. We have the right to roam.
  8. And new National Parks.
  9. Some overhead power lines have been put underground, and more will be.
  10. Our rivers and waterways are cleaner.
  11. A thousand communities, most of them rural, are developing neighbourhood plans to shape development in their area.
  12. In Scotland, though not elsewhere in the UK, rural railway lines are being reopened.
  13. Although we have tacked countless bland, sometimes ugly estates on to the edge of market towns and villages, we have also built some attractive new homes and brought new life to some rural communities. With care and investment, it can be done.

2 Responses to “Change in the countryside: reasons to be cheerful”


  1. 1 geoff lambert October 17, 2014 at 10:46 am

    Shaun,

    a good list but you might consider the development of on-shore wind and solar farms. Why? because in 25 years time when they have served their useful life we can easily revert back to countryside with no nasty scars.

    geoff

    • 2 John Woolmer October 29, 2014 at 4:57 pm

      Had successive governments not ducked the issue – and given us a properly worked out energy policy – there would have been no need for these knee-jerk costly & inefficient ‘green’ ideas.

      Most of the energy is used in towns & cities and by big businesses…far away from rural wind turbines and solar factories. If we HAVE to have them, why not site these as close to potential users on brownfield sites rather than on good agricultural land or hillsides?

      Possible others positive changes might include…Our coastal paths…use of abandoned railway tracks…growth of volunteering in the countryside… increase in AONBs and National Parks.

      But don’t get me started on reasons to be furious…milk prices, littering & fly-tipping, pesticides, bees, foreign tree diseases and invasive foreign species, the loss of habitat …to name but a few!

      John


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