Letter: Countryside March

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YOUR call for Tony Blair to "stand up for townies" (leading article, 20 February) is timely. The tiny minority who enjoy the privilege of living in the countryside should not be allowed to monopolise the rural heritage of the nation.

The urban majority are entitled to a view on national issues like the cruelty of bloodsports, the environmental devastation caused by modern farming and the exclusion of walkers from their homeland. The huge subsidy they provide to landowners both as taxpayers and food consumers only underlines this entitlement. Previous Labour governments have attempted to get to grips with the abuses of power of the rural regime, only to be knocked off course by vigorous lobbying manoeuvres like this coming Sunday's Countryside March.

In the past, the media have been as susceptible as politicians to the arrogant claims and misrepresentations of the rural elite. If The Independent is subjecting rural bluster to the scrutiny the press gives other propaganda, its voice is valuable indeed.

However, you need not understate the urban case. Access, for example, is not simply a problem in "pockets" of upland England, as the landowners would have you believe. Exclusion is the rule, not the exception. Most of Britain's woods and meadows, downs and moors, riverbanks and lakesides are out of bounds to walkers and picnickers. You salute the efforts of local councils to open the countryside, yet the access agreements they have managed to wring out of landowners cover less than 0.5 per cent of the land surface. You rightly applaud the National Trust's efforts, but the trust (and its Scottish equivalent) own just 1.3 per cent of the UK.

A right of access is the only thing that will return the countryside to the people and the present government must not be allowed to slide out of its commitment to introduce one.

MARION SHOARD

Dorking, Surrey

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