Character of countryside

By John HowardTHE very character of the countryside is irrevocably at risk from city newcomers who create almost all new jobs through businesses that have no roots in traditional rural life, the Countryside Alliance has warned.

By John Howard

THE very character of the countryside is irrevocably at risk from city newcomers who create almost all new jobs through businesses that have no roots in traditional rural life, the Countryside Alliance has warned.

In response to the Countryside Agency's new report Rural Economies, it warned new jobs and businesses in the countryside must not replace a rural economy still centred on the land, but rather add to it.

The in-depth report by the Countryside Agency, a body funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), seeks to provide an insight into the nature and dynamics of rural economies and why they are important.


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It proposed ways in which national and local public sector organisations could intervene to strengthen rural economies.

The Countryside Alliance said the report revealed almost all new jobs in the countryside were being created from non-traditional businesses started by urban incomers, while traditional rural employment was still contracting quickly.

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Its chief executive Richard Burge warned that trend could destroy the character of the countryside irrevocably and believed there was an argument for maintaining land-based employment.

"New jobs, from any source, are badly needed by indigenous rural communities and are to be welcomed, but not if these jobs reduce the productive and cultural value of the land," he said.

"This would merely suburbanise the rural landscape and the attitudes of its communities, which would be a disaster for the countryside and for all who value it."

But Stephen Rash, an arable and beef farmer working almost 1,000 acres on the Suffolk-Norfolk border near Diss, believed any employment in rural areas was welcome.

Mr Rash, chairman of the Suffolk branch of the National Farmer's Union, said he felt the Rural Economies report was good and the Countryside Agency appeared to be supporting the need for a viable agricultural community in the UK.

"There is a tendency to try to preserve to create some sort of countryside that was never there, or probably never will be," he added.

"There is a need for employment in rural areas. It would be nice to think agriculture could contribute in creating more jobs, and farm diversification does help.

"But farm diversification is not always easy and there are problems with planners and neighbours. People do not necessarily want agricultural-type jobs and any employment in rural areas is welcome. It's about balance."

But Dr Wil Gibson, of rural charity Suffolk Acre, said: "The rural economy is going through major structural changes. It is not as if there is not a place for farming anymore, but we need a rural economy to be the same as the rest of the economy.

"In rural areas we need designers, people working in publication, selling products, information technology. These things can be done in rural areas and create jobs. These workers then spend money with pubs and shops.

"The traditional rural economy has shed lots of jobs and that has had a detrimental effect. These new jobs replace those lost."

john.howard@eadt.co.uk

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