27 February 1998

All lit

up with beacons

By Catherine Hughes

MORE than 4000 beacons lit up the British skies last night (Thur) as rural communities demonstrated the plight facing agriculture and the countryside.

A display on that scale was last seen to warn of impending invasion by the Spanish Armada, and was used this week to highlight Sundays Countryside March in London.

In Mayfield, Sussex, all 50 village residents lit bonfires in their gardens.

Worcestershire, sporting more than 180 beacons, was the best-lit county. There was international support, too, with 26 beacons in the USA and others in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, Kenya, Papua New Guinea, and Australia.

Although Countryside March organisers will not say how many people they expect in London on Sunday, indications are that numbers could reach a quarter of a million.

Conservative party leader William Hague and his Lib-Dem counterpart Paddy Ashdown will attend, as will junior farm minister Lord Donoughue.

NFU president Ben Gill lit a beacon at Highclere, Hants, on the site of the ancient hill fort 260m (850ft) above sea level, while deputy president Tim Bennett lit one at Carreg Cennen Castle, Llandeilo.

Mr Gill said: "Together we must stand united and send a clear message to government and others in authority to act on our very real concerns."

&#8226 The Countryside March cartoon was designed by Wilts artist Bryn Parry specially for the event. A range of commemorative products featuring the design, including mugs and tea towels, are available. (01725-510676).