Richard Burge

The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance responds to an article by Natasha Walter, who argued that urbanites have a stake in the future of rural Britain
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The Independent Online

There was much good sense in Natasha Walter's piece on the rural dream ("We all have a right to a rural dream", 28 August). Unfortunately, this was marred by some bad sense, exacerbated by more than a touch of urban-centric arrogance and intolerance, which help to illuminate why the rift between city and country, which she dismisses glibly as a "political chimera", is real and serious.

There was much good sense in Natasha Walter's piece on the rural dream ("We all have a right to a rural dream", 28 August). Unfortunately, this was marred by some bad sense, exacerbated by more than a touch of urban-centric arrogance and intolerance, which help to illuminate why the rift between city and country, which she dismisses glibly as a "political chimera", is real and serious.

Of course the countryside "belongs" to all of us. But it is telling that Ms Walter did not nod even once in the direction of the needs and aspirations of the millions of people who still live and work there - many enduring economic or social privation.

These are the people largely responsible for having kept rural Britain a lovely place for generations, in the face of huge destructive pressures. How are their rights and interests to be reconciled with those of urban migrants or weekend visitors? Or do these have to be subordinated to urban values and priorities?

Our picturesque landscape is not merely an accident of nature. It has been shaped and enhanced by man over thousands of years. It is beautiful not despite but because of rural people and their crafts and customs. It is this which is so often misunderstood by urban commentators.

Rural Britain is not a view. It is a highly evolved community where humans and animals have established a complex and sustainable modus vivendi. If "city people", drawn to its charms and keen to share in them, wish to help to conserve the best of it, they must understand that there is such a thing as "rural life", with values and a culture very different from urban Britain's, which they must respect and embrace if they wish to help to ensure a viable "countryside" worthy of the name - and which everyone can then continue to enjoy.

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