Our Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes:
The Alliance spends a lot of time challenging deeply ingrained stereotypical assumptions about rural communities with, if we are honest, mixed results.
There remain many people with fixed, seemingly unshiftable, but totally erroneous perceptions of rural life. Unfortunately, one of the reasons that many are so determined to retain such stereotypes is that they fit neatly with their prejudices. All farmers drive Range Rovers and receive millions of pounds of subsidies; all fox hunters are arrogant toffs riding rough shod over the peasantry; everyone who shoots is from the landed gentry or a banker. The list goes on and on.
The simplest and most effective way of challenging such nonsense is to present the facts. Some will never accept them, for instance I remember pointing out to the Guardian columnist George Monbiot who had just described firearms licence holders as ‘oligarchs’ that the highest rate of gun ownership in the UK was in West Wales, which also has the lowest GDP. Despite the fact that he lived in West Wales at the time he declined to respond.
For those who are simply misguided, however, such facts can really change perceptions.
That is why work like the ‘State of Rural Services 2016’ report from Rural England is so important. After all it is difficult to maintain the argument that rural communities are predominantly wealthy when the number of families claiming in-work benefits in the most rural areas is significantly above the national average.
The report, which we support as a Rural England stakeholder, also details the complex interaction between the potential for rural communities of service delivery online, the retreat of many actual services from those communities, and the still inadequate provision of broadband in many parts of the countryside. As a whole the report will inform our campaigns in 2017 and beyond.
A new look for the Countryside Alliance
Alongside those campaigns the Alliance will be changing the way it presents itself with a new look emphasising that we are an organisation that speaks for the countryside, and also works for everyone who loves that countryside. We are already recognised as the voice of the countryside, but there are always new and different ways of delivering our message that will allow it to be heard more loudly and more clearly. Our new look will be unveiled in the next few weeks.