22 March 2002

Biking bishop at full farming throttle

BISHOP John Oliver did his bit for the "Your Countryside Youre Welcome" campaign by donning his leathers and getting on his bike to tour rural north Herefordshire.

Visiting a range of local businesses and landmarks astride his Suzuki GSXR 750, the Bishop of Hereford declared the countryside open for business once more.

"I love the countryside and am passionate about biking, so what better way of showing my support to the open countryside campaign," he said.

He was full of praise for rural communities for their support for those caught up in the foot-and-mouth crisis. "I know that farmers who retreated into their shells took courage from the support and prayers offered by others. This included those in-comers to the village scene, who are now much more aware of what goes on in a rural community," he said.

"We tried to keep in touch with as many farmers as possible and will continue to have an open door offering pro-active support."

At Dunkertons Cider Mill, Pembridge, Ivor Dunkerton said that the closure of the visitor centre and restaurant had been a big loss. "Regular visitors were devastated that we could not open – a lot of people came to eat, drink and buy. Now weve got to encourage them back this Easter," he said. "The signs are good – my wife is happy but harassed."

Mr Dunkerton acknowledges continued support from DEFRA in terms of rural enterprise grant aid which has enabled him to expand his organic cider and perry business.

Last year, the company made 40,000 gallons of cider most of which is sold through specialist supermarket chains Waitrose and EH Booths. Thats a 14,000 gallon increase on 2000.

West Midlands regional director of the Countryside Agency, Mike Grace said that while tourists stayed away from areas such as the Long Mynd or Malverns, they did visit larger tourist attractions such as Stratford and Warwick Castle.

"Now though, the signs are that they are returning to the countryside and local tourist boards are putting over a consistent message that the countryside is open.

"We are also seeing new initiatives such as South Shropshires shuttle bus, proper promotion of Offas Dyke and circular walks on the Stiperstones. All this will help boost the rural economy."

Mike Saull