24 November 1995

Ignorance key reason for a new initiative

By Liz Mason

BRITISH children show worrying levels of ignorance about farming and the countryside, research for the newly-launched Countryside Movement has found.

Some believe eggs are laid by pigs and bacon comes from chickens. Researchers who questioned 400 children, aged between seven and 10, also found:

&#8226 One in three do not know that oats, barley and peas are gown in Britain.

&#8226 About half believe peaches are grown on British farms.

&#8226 One in five do not know bacon comes from pigs.

&#8226 One in three believe badgers are not found in the British countryside but wolves are roaming wild.

Ignorance, among most of the population, especially the young, is one of the key reasons for the launch of the movement (News, Nov 17).

Sir David Steel, the movements executive chairman, said taped video interviews also showed a similar picture of ignorance and misunderstanding among young people.

Many formed their views from the mass media, and if the movement was to succeed it must embrace the media.

National campaign

That process began last week with the launch of a £3.5m advertising campaign in the national press. A series of advertisements have been developed covering countryside management, conservation, rights of way, animal husbandry and welfare.

All aim to educate the public, promote the countryside and recruit supporters.

Sir David said the movement had set itself a difficult task. That was apparent at the launch when Ramblers Association assistant director David Beskine asked Sir David to consider withdrawing one advertisement.

It said no one is defending the publics right to use footpaths more than farmers. But Mr Beskine claimed ramblers experience showed farmers and landowners are constantly ploughing up footpaths.

Sir David said the movement advocated responsible and reasonable access and was willing to discuss the issue with the Ramblers Association and other organisations.

Trojan horse

The movement has also run into controversy, with accusations in the press that it is "a Trojan horse for the promotion of blood sports".

Sir David said he did not support hunting and neither did most people in his constituency.

But he did not want to stop those who did like to hunt from doing so. As an angler, he feared the same people might stop him from fishing.

Who is behind the Countryside Movement?

Its executive chairman is Sir David Steel MP. He is responsible, with a board of directors, for determining policy. The 14 directors include:

Earl Peel, Game .Conservancy chairman

John Rennie, Tenant .Farmers Association .director-general

David Evans, NFU director-.general

Hugh Duberly, former .Country Landowners .Association president

Hywel Davies, Royal .Highland and Agricultural .Society of Scotland chief .executive

Lord Cledwyn, Labour peer .and former farm minister .1968-70

The Duke of Westminster

Frederick Forsyth, farmer .and novelist

How is it funded?

The Countryside Business Group, linked to countryside interests, is underwriting about 10% of the launch costs. The movement, which is operating on an overdraft, hopes to become self-financing through supporters donations. But there are no membership subscriptions.

Sir David Steel: Pledged to fight ignorance about farming and countryside.