16 March 2001

Meeting the man behind the countryside march…

You may well have been due to visit London this weekend for

the countryside march. Until foot-and-mouth struck, that is. But

the event has been deferred not cancelled, says its director

James Stanford. Tim Relf meets the man behind the march

JAMES Stanford felt so strongly about defending the countryside that he came out of retirement – putting his Dorset life on hold – to organise the Liberty and Livelihood March, which was planned for this Sunday (Mar 18).

He invested six months of his life turning the idea into a reality. And it was all going so well, with hundreds of thousands of people due to converge on the capital. Then came foot-and-mouth.

"We were absolutely gutted," says 63-year-old James. "Our planning was as near complete as it could have been."

Hes back in the Countryside Alliance headquarters in London. Back to square one. Down but definitely not out. "The team is fired up. God knows when itll be – but its not cancelled, its deferred."

James has no doubt that the decision to postpone the march was the right one. But, short of a staggering U-turn by the government, the need for a march is greater now than ever, he reckons.

"I hope it will persuade parliament that there is a deep crisis in the countryside, coupled with the real sense of anger about legislation which is based on ignorance and misunderstanding.

"My hope is that they will back off the legislation on hunting and will review their approach to legislation in other country sports areas and recognise the real support that farming and country people want."

This, he hopes, will come from the big numbers taking part and the strength of purpose. "We have hit a very raw nerve with the public conscience.

"Once we defined what it was going to be called – liberty and livelihood – that rang a hugely broad number of bells. There was never any problem keeping it a broad church."

The organising team reckon they need about eight weeks to organise the event again. "At the moment, with the foot-and-mouth situation as it is, we cant possibly say when that eight-week time period might begin."

Eight weeks isnt long, really, when you consider the massive logistical task involved. Coaches have to be co-ordinated, the route planned and about 15 different authorities, including the Metropolitan Police, have to be liaised with. And then theres the publicity. "We think in millions for every piece of publicity material," he says.

&#42 Tolerance

So why not just be one of the many walkers then? Be one of them and let someone else do the organising. James is, after all, a volunteer. "I feel so passionately about so many of the issues for which we are marching," he says. And the name encapsulates it all. Its all about liberty and livelihood. Its all about freedom and tolerance.

Playing such an important part in the event has not been without sacrifice and worries. "There was a slight personal anxiety about becoming so high profile."

Plus, its meant spending time in London. "I loathe London. Theres a falseness about it. I have lived and worked in London quite a bit but my real home is the countryside."

Hes looking forward to spending more time back home. Spending more time with the children and grandchildren and taking an active role – as he always has – in the community.

"The other person, of course, who has suffered from me losing six months out of Dorset has been my beloved wife, Carol. We thought we had retired."

James retired in 1998 from a successful career in industry, ending as director general of the Leonard Cheshire Foundation and before that running David Brown. "Ive been used to dealing with quite large numbers of people."

As a young man, he had a short career in the services. "People think I look like a soldier. It slightly sticks with you." And you can see why people think that. Hes got a military bearing – and the task of organising the march does call for a military-style mind.

&#42 Culture shock

Coming out of retirement, meanwhile, has been a culture shock. "You find you are so out of date with the technology. Laptops didnt exist for me when I retired. Now I cant do without them."

Hes missed, meanwhile, his pedigree Sussex cattle and sheep flock. Relatives and local farmers have lent a helping hand when hes been away. "Ive been lucky to have people who will probably do it better than me," he says, self-deprecatingly. His hunting, needless to say, has been curtailed recently.

Meanwhile, James and his team will keep planning. "The commitment of the team is staggering.

"We have to go on reminding and reminding and reminding politicians how out of step many of them are with rural opinion."

As for when, precisely, the march might take place, well, hes unsure. "We cant make any plans. I just feel so sorry for the farmers affected by foot-and-mouth."

And the fight, he stresses, will continue after the next march whenever it happens anyway. And then he resorts to another military analogy: "One of the worse things we could do is think that however successful this march is that it has won the war."