5 April 2002

Farmers set to join London rural march

By Isabel Davies

FARMERS are set to join countryside campaigners when they take to the streets of London later in the year, according to the results of an Farmers Weekly Interactive poll.

Over 85% of the 654 people who voted in an online poll this week signalled their intent to attend another countryside march.

The Countryside Alliance confirmed on Wednesday (Apr 3) that a march will go ahead but refused to give a date.

Alliance chief executive Richard Burge said a rolling programme of demonstrations and events over the summer would culminate in a demon- stration. The tone and timing of this huge event will be dictated by government action from here on in.

"We will not accept any public or private assurances. The countryside needs to see firm evidence, and quickly of the governments determination to safeguard their rights."

Speaking later to farmers weekly, Mr Burge said organisers were weighing up what days were available and also trying to work out the how the politics would pan out once a date was revealed.

Some farmers on FWis Talking Point pages have raised concerns about any farming message being drowned out by the pro-hunting one. But Mr Burge insisted the intention was that the march would be about a "diverse and tolerant countryside" and not just hunting.

"Ive got to make sure the mission of the march is as inclusive as possible for the people who want to turn up," he said. "We are trying to create something which enables people to articulate their own views."

The first step in the summer programme of events will take place next week when Alliance members will visit 12 DEFRA offices to present letters to junior minister Alun Michael demanding a fair and tolerant solution to the hunting issue. &#42

The letters point out that a hunting ban would damage rural communities as well as having a negative effect on animal welfare. They also call for the six-month consultation to be carried out in an open and transparent manner.