The British countryside is the 8th wonder of the world, and the envy of so many. We are all fortunate to be part of it. We must not forget our mutual interest in preserving its quality, its natural state and many purposes, its continued viability and our ability to share the experience with those who live in towns and cities. In short the countryside matters, for us all, and all the time.
For the countryside to succeed it requires investment and strong leadership. Brexit brings us to a fork in the road. For the last 43 years most of the oversight, regulation and support for the countryside has come not from our own government but via the European Union. The Common Agricultural Policy, has been just that: common to a diverse range of countries, peoples and climates. Its budgets, rules and environmental laws have been shaped elsewhere. The CAP has been the master of so many, but insensitive at times to national and local needs.
The Prime Minister will understand all of this - after all she is a geographer - and given she has called a General Election there is no better time to ask her, and all candidates standing for election, how they intend supporting the countryside in the years ahead.
I do not believe that any candidate or party seeking election next month would want to cut off funding that ensures our land and landscapes are managed in the best interests of future generations, or ensures we have safe, secure, high quality and affordable food. I am optimistic that the next Government, of whatever colour, will continue to invest in the countryside.
But I am not complacent about this. There are a range of competing demands on the public purse. We have to make the positive case; we have to show that a public and private co-investment in our countryside is a shared priority. We have to do this, not just during the election but throughout the crucial months ahead. A future countryside policy will emerge in various forms throughout the UK and we need to shape it.
A strong farming industry is the heartbeat of a successful countryside. Given the right conditions and investment, and Government leadership, it can thrive. We must inspire a new generation of farmers to seize the challenge to improve their industry in every respect- its profitability, output, levels of investment, skill sets, as well as the natural environment in which it sits. We must help them to work together and in new ways, for the better performance of their own businesses and the wider economy.
The countryside can benefit from the changing and growing economy, providing people with a home to live, and a place to work and run enterprises with confidence. Above all giving long term confidence to invest, carrying out activities previously unthought of through greater diversification without in any way spoiling this great treasure.
A step change in conservation can be based on a new contract between the farmer and the state - a true partnership that clearly sets out goals, rewards and penalties for both parties as in any contract. One that pays a fair return for the services provided such as managing the land to store and clean water, to create and maintain wildlife habitats and by meeting the right standards in production of food.
Meeting these objectives is what the CLA's 'Countryside Matters' campaign is all about. It is about giving everyone a chance to show that they believe the countryside should be a priority, that it is a worthy public investment, and that the return on that investment benefits us all.
Throughout 2017 the CLA will be out making this positive case. We will be mobilising those who live and work in the countryside to ensure their voice is heard at this critical juncture. Above all we will be reaching out to those people who live and work in our towns and cities, whose love for our countryside is no less strong, helping them to understand why investment is needed.
We need your help, so please sign up to the campaign at www.thecountrysidematters.org or when you see us at events around the country. Together, as individuals and as a coalition of likeminded organisations, we can grasp the opportunity ahead. We can leave our political leaders in no doubt that the countryside matters, that supporting it is the right thing to do, and that a living, working countryside benefits us all.Suggest a correction