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A thriving countryside for all: getting the policies right

Crispin Truman, CEO of CPRE, the countryside charity, explains how the organisation's new purpose and strategy aim to tackle the complex challenges, and make the most of opportunities, facing the countryside today and into the future

January 2020

At CPRE we call ourselves the countryside charity because we think it’s an easier, clearer way to communicate to the wider public what we’re about. That’s a means to the much more important end of attracting far more, and broader-based, support to the cause of enhancing, promoting and protecting our countryside. What we call ourselves – and our new logo, look and feel – is only a part of our recent, fundamental, refocussing of our wonderful 93-year old charity.

CPRE now has a new purpose and strategy designed to meet the complex and extensive challenges which the countryside faces in the 21st century and to better respond to the opportunities.

Those challenges include the impact of insensitive development and top-down growth, dramatic changes to agriculture policy and economics and - most significant of all - the impact of the climate emergency. But for CPRE our focus is also on people and society and on the real concern that people in our towns and cities are becoming more remote from nature and countryside, while those living in rural areas are facing multiple disadvantages and the loss of vital services.

Our response is to focus on finding solutions and maximising opportunities and to build a narrative which is all about how we get to a thriving, sustainable countryside for all in the 21st century.

Working with local CPREs in every part of the country and with many and different organisational partners from across environmental, social and planning sectors, we will:

Connect people and countryside: we want far more people from different backgrounds to be able to enjoy, engage with and therefore care for the countryside, particularly the countryside near where they live. Our programmes will highlight and involve people in the wellbeing benefits of countryside and demonstrate the vital role it plays in providing space for nature and climate change mitigation. We’ll focus in particular on groups who have not previously benefitted from access to countryside – for example people living on the urban fringe for whom the Green Belt is a vital space to breathe. We’ll work with others to enhance landscapes, particularly those at risk, and in doing so increase access, biodiversity and climate resilience and protect our green spaces.

If more people discover and enjoy the value of the countryside, we can create a louder voice in the debate about its future. Doing that will influence policymakers to give countryside more weight in decisions about how we use this country’s precious land.

CPRE has always believed that the countryside should be a place where people and communities can thrive. We believe that many of the problems it now faces arise from a desperate lack of specifically rural policies and solutions for the 21st century. We want therefore also to promote rural life by setting out a holistic vision which brings together the complex and interdependent issues of rural communities, services, housing, transport, farming and economies and work with rural communities and partners to develop a strategy and plans to help make that vision happen. Lots of people have expertise and experience to contribute to this, but the current lack of rural-specific solutions means many communities and the environment are losing out badly.

Key to this is to empower communities to have a greater say in the future of their local natural and built environment. Our work here starts with our own network of local CPREs, which comprise volunteers and front-line campaigners across the whole country. We’re going to invest more resources in supporting and upskilling our groups and helping them build capacity and partnerships. We’ll campaign as we always have to restore the democratic functions of the planning system and its local accountability and we will strengthen collaboration beyond our own network, particularly in rural communities, to ensure more fair and sustainable outcomes for local people and their environment.

Our fourth priority in this, our six-year plan to take us to CPRE’s centenary in 2026, is to grow our capacity by creating a wider range of people to engage with and support the countryside. Many people feel overwhelmed by the challenges of climate change and loss of nature and green space, the civil society sector is well-placed to provide tangible, practical ways to make a difference. CPRE will play its part through its hyper-local presence and promoting inspirational activities which help the countryside and people’s experience of it.

CPRE’s plans for the future are rooted in our charity’s historic purpose and the learning of generations of campaigners. They were also developed in close collaboration with others so will, I believe, reflect the agendas of all Wildlife & Countryside Link members and those in related sectors. This is crucial because working together is the only way we are going to get the right results for the countryside from policymakers, Parliament and the economy. With effective collaboration between all of us who seek secure a long-term, sustainable future for our countryside and nature and by working across environmental, community and social sectors we can run rings around the silo-ed thinking of Government and achieve tangible results for the cause which unites us.

Follow @CrispinTruman & @CPRE

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author's and not necessarily those of the wider Link membership.