18 March 2001
Countryside calling-card to London
by Isabel Davies
THE Countryside Alliance has delivered a giant calling-card to Westminster as a symbolic reminder of the postponed Countryside March on Sunday (18 March).
The alliance estimates that over 500,000 would have taken to the streets to march for Liberty and Livelihood were it not for the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Richard Burge, alliance chief executive, delivered the card which said the countryside had been “unavoidably detained” but promises “we can call again…”.
The card will be dropped at the gates to the Houses of Parliament at 11am the time marchers should have been passing on their way to Hyde Park.
Individual calling card will also be sent to all MPs and peers.
“The countryside may not have been able to come to London in person but politicians should have no doubt that it will be here in spirit,” said Mr Burge.
“Britain was to have seen the largest civil liberties demonstration since the war. And unless politicians take note, it may still.”
The march was voluntarily postponed three weeks ago by which time more than 207,000 had already registered their intention to attend.
An extra 3000 people had applied for a “certificate of exemption” for those who could not attend because of old age, ill health or other commitments.
Mr Burge said it was sadly ironic that the “livelihood” aspect of the march was the reason that the event could not take place.
Thousands of rural livelihoods, whether in farming, tourism or country sports faced potential ruin as a result of foot-and-mouth, he said.
“The calling card will emphasis that although our march has been postponed the reasons for staging it are now even more relevant than ever.”
An alliance spokeswoman said the cost of producing promotional stickers, posters and leaflets for the cancelled march was “significant”.
But she added: “There have been tremendous public relations benefits created by the impression that 500,000 people were going to turn up.”
The march was unlikely to go ahead in the foreseeable future because of foot-and-mouth but it would still happen eventually, said the spokeswoman.
“We hold an incredibly useful set of cards,” she said. “With all the planning we have done it could really be held at a moments notice.”
The alliance is keeping its registration hotline (0906 788 1680) open until the end of April and is encouraging people to keep phoning at a cost of 1 a minute.
It argues that is the only way to provide a tangible gauge of how many people would have turned up on Sunday. It also raises money for the organisation.
Organisers have produced basic legal advice to help groups in the event that coach companies refuse to refund people who had planned to attend the march.
John Hague, who was organising a ferry to take marchers from Newcastle to London, said everyone would receive a refund minus an administration charge.
He had considered using the boat for a weekend cruise but rejected the idea because it would have risked spreading foot-and-mouth.
Mr Hague said it was right to defer the march. He added: “Of all the members I have talked to in the last few days not one has said it was the wrong decision.”