25 October 1999
Alliance to ‘free’ countryside

THE Countryside Alliance has pledged to “emancipate the countryside” as it stages its first national conference today (Monday) in London.

Yesterday an Alliance rally in Norwich drew 10,000 demonstrators protesting at government plans to ban foxhunting.

This is the third of six protests by the rural issues pressure group on this subject.

But chief executive Richard Burge insisted the Alliance was not a single issue organisation, and said recent marches were a “touchstone for a whole lot of rural issues”.

He told Radio 4s Farming Today programme that rural dwellers felt disenfranchised, and believed no one was interested in their concerns about housing, services and crime.

“We want to start a process which will enable us to address the problems rural people feel themselves, not problems other people feel they have.”

While country sports take up half of the conference agenda, Mr Burge said this part would be largely devoted to shooting and fishing.

“It would be absolutely pointless to have discussion on the rural economy without talking about one of the major inputs.”

Mr Burge believes the recent action had spurred the government into action.

“Theres obviously very fairly creative and radical thinking going on in the Cabinet Office at the moment.”

He called for a public inquiry on hunting to “get that debate moved to the side, so we can get on with the real problems of rural Britain, not imagined ones”.