Lobby group to step up battle in the countryside

Fighting the activists: Bloodsports enthusiasts launch pounds 3.5m adve rtising campaign to counter growing influence of animal rights movement
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The Independent Online
Britain's newest and probably most powerful bloodsport and countryside lobbying group was launched yesterday with a pounds 3.5m advertising campaign.

After months of secret preparations, the Countryside Movement was founded to protect the interests of rural Britain as well as those of the hunting, shooting and fishing lobbies.

The movement claims that rural Britain is poorly understood by urban dwellers and seeks to build a greater "awareness and understanding" through expensive and sustained advertising campaign.

According to secret minutes of meetings held by the organisation obtained by the Independent, high on its list of priorities is countering the growing influence of animal welfare groups. It also aims to tackle land access groups such as the Ramblers' Association. One of the full-page advertisements, which will appear in national newspapers from today, pictures a slaughterman. The caption reads: "George Roberts head slaughterman and animal lover." Another advertisement tackles organisations lobbying for greater land access rights. Beneath a picture of a footpath reads the caption: "It goes right across farmer Stockdale's land. No one's defending your right to use it more than him."

The Countryside Movement, which is supported by some of Britain's richest and most influential landowners, drew criticism from the Ramblers' Association and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Both groups accuse the new movement of being a front for the blood sports lobby and those who wish to restrict public access to the countryside.

David Beskine, a Ramblers' Association spokesman, criticised the footpath and right to roam advertisement and demanded its withdrawal. "Survey after survey has shown that the greatest problem walkers face in the countryside is obstruction of footpaths," he said.

"There's a host of popular movements in this country concerned with animal rights, preserving the countryside and the right to roam and they [the Countryside Movement] think they can alter their growing influence with money. I don't think they'll succeed."

The IFAW described the adverts as "patronising, glossy and totally without substance".

Sir David Steel, the movement's executive chairman, said the aim of the advertising campaign was to build up a huge database of people with an interest in all aspects of the countryside who could be mobilised over key issues that affect them.