The Countryman and the countryside, 90 years on

Here is my column for the 90th anniversary issue of the Countryman. You can see the first issue of the magazine here – the editor’s introduction, with its brief history of Idbury is a joy.

An anniversary is a good time to look back, and in CPRE we did plenty of that when we celebrated our 90th in December last year. But it is also a time to look forward and the Countryman, for all its tendency to nostalgia (part of its enduring appeal) has always cared about the future, and the need to improve rural areas and the lives of country people.

Dipping into any old issue of the Countryman shows how life has changed. Sylvia Townsend Warner’s 1948 essay, ‘I cook on oil’, gives a glimpse into what we would consider poverty, with water drawn from a well or collected from the roof (“only those who have had to carry water into the house and out again can appreciate the beatitude of a tap and a run-away”).

But Townsend Warner was not poor. Indeed, she was a freeholder, having paid £90 for her cottage (“it is neither picturesque nor convenient”) in Chaldon Herring, Dorset. The rural poor had it really tough. And they still do, though poverty is more hidden in rural than urban areas.

The Countryman‘s founder editor, J W Robertson Scott was apparently given to “rants” about the plight of agricultural labourers. I have had a couple of those in my column (here and here). We need more secure, well-paid jobs in food and farming – or do we just want to hand over to robots? And we need more affordable rural homes if villages are to retain (or recover) their social mix.

I hope the Countryman will continue to consider these social issues in its coming years. And I hope it will continue to promote the vital role the countryside plays in helping us cope with climate change, in providing food and energy, as a home for nature, and as a beautiful, valued resource for the whole nation, no matter where we live.

Who knows, by the time the Countryman celebrates its centenary, we may have integrated land use strategies for each of the UK nations to guide decisions on how we use our land, most which is, of course, rural. CPRE will certainly be campaigning for that.

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