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Tuesday, March 3, 1998 Published at 07:10 GMT

Talking Point

Is the countryside under threat - from 'townies' and government?

An estimated 250,000 people marched through central London as part of a countryside rally on Sunday.

The BBC's Guto Harri on the rural community's lost faith in the political process (4' 27")
Last week, campaigners lit up the British countryside with more than 5,000 fires of protest against what they see as threats to the rural way of life.

"It is significant that all the UK farming unions and landowner associations are working together for the first time in full co-operation with country sportsmen on making the beacons a highly symbolic gesture of solidarity," said Sam Butler of the Countryside Alliance.

The issues at the heart of the protest action include:

  • An anti-hunting bill, being steered through the Commons by Labour MP Mike Foster.

  • The government's house building plans - the construction of 4.4 million new homes on greenbelt sites by the year 2016.

  • The government's handling of the BSE/beef crisis.

  • The government's right-to-roam law - landowners forced to allow public access to most uncultivated land.

    But, as campaigners made the full extent of their feelings known, the Government was also accused of backtracking.

    Jack Cunningham denies feeling under pressure (5'12")
    Last week, landowners were given two years to voluntarily open up their fields instead of being immediately forced to by law.

    And, Agriculture Minister, Jack Cunningham said the Treasury will cover the costs of new anti-BSE measures, not charge them to farmers.

    Are the campaigners right to be so protective of the countryside?

    Should we all care more about preserving the rural way of life or is change inevitable?

    Is the countryside under threat - from 'townies' and government?

    What you've said so far:

    I find it extraordinary that people who live in the country feel it is inappropriate for people who live in towns to have a view on fox-hunting...
    Paul, UK

    Farms have had it good for too long...
    Paul Smith, UK

    The march was an opportunity missed...
    Bruce, UK

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