Chief Executive Tim Bonner writes: In the midst of one of the wettest and least pleasant winters in recent memory even those of us who are not having to cope with farms, or even homes, under flood water may find it difficult to adopt an optimistic frame of mind.
Water levels apart there are a huge range of challenges facing rural Britain. Significant social change in communities where employment in traditional rural industries has waned and commuting, home working and retirement has replaced it and is spreading ever further into the countryside. House prices have already risen astronomically in many rural areas and are rising fast in others. Building affordable housing in rural areas remains extremely difficult as the needs of some to live and work in the countryside meet the desire of others to preserve it exactly in its current state. Service provision, from transport to health care remains, remains far too inconsistent and it is simply not acceptable to argue that online resources can replace physical services when a significant part of rural Britain has unacceptably bad access to the internet.
Environmentally many of our rivers are facing an unseen crisis of pollution which is having a direct and devastating effect on biodiversity; large areas of agricultural land, especially in the South East of England, are disappearing as house building to meet the needs of a growing affluent population becomes a Government priority; infrastructure development like the flawed HS2 route is biting further into our countryside and livestock farming, especially in the uplands, is increasingly economically unsustainable on many family farms.
It is human nature to be concerned about immediate change, and what might happen in the future, and the Alliance will always give rural communities a voice to argue for their way of life. We can and should also, however, be positive about many other aspects of rural life.
Despite all the pressures on it the British countryside remains a jewel which more and more people see as iconic of our country as is witnessed by viewing figures for the BBC’s Countryfile programme which has become one of the most popular programmes on television. Conserving the countryside is also an increasing priority for many people as is sourcing quality local food, including game sales which have been growing for a decade or more. Famers and other rural entrepreneurs have diversified into a dazzling range of businesses bringing new jobs and new prosperity to many rural areas. Fishing remains one of the largest participatory sports in the country; shooting continues to grow massively in popularity and, of course, hunting has survived everything that has been thrown at it. That last point is crucial, not just because the Hunting Act has failed, but because the battle over hunting has stopped the animal rights movement, which threatens so much of our way of life, in its tracks. The British countryside has always evolved, but the people within it have always adapted. We are here to ensure that your interests are never forgotten.
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