1997 Within weeks of Labour coming to power, more than 120,000 people rally in Hyde Park against the government’s rural policies. Farm incomes plummet by 35% and British farmers protest French-style, blockading imports of Irish beef.

1998 The first Countryside March brings more than 250,000 people to the streets of London in protest at government policy on hunting, the beef-on-the-bone ban, right-to-roam proposals and falling farm incomes.

1999 Greenpeace executive director Lord Peter Melchett is arrested along with 27 environmental activists who destroy a field of GM maize in Norfolk.

2000 During a crisis summit in Downing Street, Tony Blair pledges more than £200m to help livestock producers. “It will not, I am acutely aware, solve all your problems,” he says.


2001 Foot-and-mouth disease plunges the countryside into crisis, resulting in the slaughter of an estimated seven million animals. MAFF and its minister Nick Brown are replaced by DEFRA and Margaret Beckett.

2002 Almost 500,000 people descend on London for the Liberty and Livelihood march,once again protesting at the government’s rural policies. The biggest peacetime protest ever, it brings the streets around Westminster to a halt.

2003 Margaret Beckett claims this will be a watershed year for British farming amid forecasts that rural tourism will replace farming as the mainstay of rural England within 20 years.

2004 The right to roam is introduced, granting ramblers access to open country and registered common land in parts of England and Wales.

2005 Hunting with hounds is finally banned.

2006 A cash crisis engulfs thousands of farmers who are plunged into debt as the Rural Payments Agency fails to make Single Farm Payments on time.

2007 Fears of a foot-and-mouth-style epidemic subside as DEFRA manages to contain Britain’s first bird flu outbreak in domestic poultry on a Suffolk turkey farm belonging to Bernard Matthews.

 To ‘What has Tony Blair done for farming?’