ⓘ Countryside Alliance
The Countryside Alliance is a British organisation promoting issues relating to the countryside such as farming, rural services, small businesses and country sports, aiming to "Give Rural Britain a voice". With over 100.000 members, the group was named the most inspiring political personality of the last ten years by Channel 4 News in 2008.
The Countryside Alliance was formed on 10 July 1997 from three organisations: the British Field Sports Society, the Countryside Business Group, and the Countryside Movement. The Alliance was formed to help promote and defend the British countryside and rural life, both in the media and in Parliament. Since then, the Countryside Alliance has campaigned on a number of issues which they believe are important to rural Britain. It broadly outlines its major campaigns through a Rural Charter which focus on the following major themes:
- Tackle crime in rural areas
- Connect the countryside by delivering first class digital infrastructure
- Recognise the importance of wildlife management and the value of hunting, shooting and fishing
- Make Brexit work for the countryside
- Buy British by supporting our farmers and producers
1.1. History Campaigns
- Falconry for schools
- Encouraging customers and supermarkets to stock food from British farms
- Supporting shooting and deer stalking across the British Isles, by campaigning against additional regulations and negative press coverage
- A "Game-to-Eat" campaign aiming to popularise game as a meat of choice
- Against the passing of the 2004 Hunting Ban, and lobbying for its repeal
- Fishing4Schools, an initiative aimed to help children with special educational needs by taking them angling
- Against the closure of rural post offices
- Supporting small rural businesses through the Countryside Alliance Awards scheme
- Calling for better broadband connections for homes and small businesses in the countryside
- Organising educational talks and trips to the countryside for schoolchildren
- Vice President - The Baroness Golding, Labour peer
- Chairman - The Rt. Hon. Nick Herbert CBE, former Minister of State for Policing & Criminal Justice and Member of Parliament for Arundel and South Down
- President - The Baroness Mallalieu, Labour peer
- Chief Executive and Director of The Countryside Alliance Foundation – Tim Bonner
Elected members of the Board
- Caroline Squire
- James Wharton, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development and Member of Parliament for Stockton South
- Richard Fry
- Karen Silcock
- Johnnie Arkwright
- Andrew Ogg
- Bill Tyrwhitt-Drake
- Charlie McVeigh III
- Tim Bonner
- Paul Dunn
- Guy Portwin
The Countryside Alliance Foundation
- Tara Douglas-Home
- Tim Russ
- Richard Fry
- Andrew Ogg
- Charlie Wilson
- Nick Bannister, Chairman
3. The Countryside Alliance Foundation
The Countryside Alliance Foundation is the charitable arm of the organisation. Its mission aim, according to its website, is to "help adults and children alike make the most of the incredible remedial and educational benefits of being involved in the natural environment. By introducing people to the delights of rural Britain we hope to inspire them to become passionate about the countryside, and helping to protect the natural environment."
The Foundations core projects include the Casting For Recovery UK and Ireland programme, Fishing for Schools and Falconry for Schools.
3.1. The Countryside Alliance Foundation Casting for Recovery
The Casting for Recovery programme was set up by The Foundation to provide women affected by breast cancer treatment with an opportunity to learn the sport of fly fishing as part of a free weekend retreat. The retreats are run by health care volunteers, qualified fishing instructors and fishing guides. The programme was established by Sue Shaw. In an article for the Yorkshire Post, the aim of the programme is stated to be "to give the women a shared, safe environment in which to discuss their illness and share experiences. They receive all the latest advice from an oncology nurse and an on-staff counsellor is also there to lend expertise on the specific fears and worries associated with breast cancer. Retreats can stir up emotions for many of the women, so the professionalism and expertise of the medics and counsellors is vital."
3.2. The Countryside Alliance Foundation Fishing for Schools
Fishing for Schools was set up in 2007 by award-winning angler Charles Jardine. In a profile piece written by David Profumo for The Telegraph, the programme is described as being "aimed at students in secondary education, especially those with learning difficulties, physical disabilities and a spectrum of special needs. Working alongside teachers in and out of the classroom, it explores core curricular subjects through the medium of angling and its range of associated skills – social, practical and interactive. It fills the gap between fun and academia." According to its webpage, the programme offers participants between the ages of 10-16 the opportunity to gain qualifications through accredited schemes run by ASDAN, COPE, BTEC and NOCN.
3.3. The Countryside Alliance Foundation Falconry for Schools
The Falconry for Schools project sees birds of prey taken into primary and secondary schools, with an aim of teaching knowledge and understanding of the natural world to pupils as part of general subjects relating to history, science and technology.
4. The Countryside Alliance Awards
The Countryside Alliance Awards is a national awards scheme set up in 2006, also known as The Rural Oscars. Its aim is to "award rural businesses that go the extra mile, who support their local economy and are unsung heroes in every community". The awards are led by public nominations, covering seven categories: village shop/post office, local food and drink, rural enterprise, pub, butcher, game and the Clarissa Dickson Wright award, which was instituted in 2013.
In 2019, the Countryside Alliance stated that it had received over 17.000 nominations. The awards ceremony is usually held in the month of June at the House of Lords. Previous judges have included Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liz Truss, William Sitwell, Philip Johnston of the Daily Telegraph, Borough Market Founder Peter Gott and the late Clarissa Dickson Wright.
5.1. Key campaigns Tackling rural crime
The Countryside Alliance provides a number of guides for its members and the wider public that relate to crimes often associated as common rural crimes. These include dog theft, fly-tipping, sheep rustling, hare poaching, fuel theft as well as the impact of hunt saboteurs and online bullying.
5.2. Key campaigns Church and religious buildings crime report
In November 2019, the Countryside Alliance produced a report which detailed the number of crimes recorded by police forces at churches and other religious buildings in England, Wales and Northern Ireland using powers under Freedom of Information laws. Police Scotland did not comply with the request. The final report found that between January 2017 and July 2019 over 20.000 crimes had been recorded, which included lead and metal theft, general theft, violent assault and vandalism. Following the publication of the report, The Countryside Alliance issued the following public statement: "As a society, irrespective of faith or none, we need to be much more vigilant when it comes to watching over churches and places of worship by reporting suspicious activity. These figures serve as a reminder of the importance of funding and pushing for visible policing, particularly in rural areas where churches are more remote."
5.3. Key campaigns Food and farming
The Countryside Alliance describes the food and farming industry as "nationally important" arguing it is responsible for "generating over £108 billion a year for the UK economy and employing one in eight people. It is particularly important for our most rural areas where farming is often central to the economic and social life of the community as well as playing a vital role in conservation".
5.4. Key campaigns University of Cambridge hypocrisy accusation
In December 2016, the University of Cambridge implemented a ban on beef and lamb at its campus outlets and events operations, in what it described as a bid to cut carbon emissions. The decision provoked anger from local farmers and members of the National Farmers Union NFU. In a paper produced by the University in September 2019, following a review of the benefits of the red meat ban, Professor Andrew Balmford stated "it is hard to imagine any other interventions that could yield such dramatic benefits in so short span of time". The CA submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the University to ask how many flights its staff had taken as part of academic and work related duties, from January 2016 to September 2019. The FOI also asked for a list of the locations flown to, as well as the total costs. The Times newspaper covered the initial story, which revealed the University had spent £13.431.166.66 on flights, amounting to 17.545 take-offs since 2016. Following the disclosure, the CA Chief Executive Tim Bonner, along with a list of livestock farmers, wrote to the Universitys Vice Chancellor to request that the red meat ban be revoked. The open letter stated: "The university is open to the charge of hypocrisy as it promotes what it clearly intended to be an eye-catching policy whilst continuing to contribute massively to CO2 emissions created by the airline industry." It added: "By sourcing grass fed, locally sourced beef and lamb, and reviewing your airline flight policy the University could have a far greater impact on reducing carbon emissions, whilst supporting British livestock farmers across the country." The university responded to the accusation, saying "We are developing an internal offsetting scheme to help mitigate the impact of our air travel and measures to reduce the need for, and impact of, the travel undertaken by our staff."
5.5. Key campaigns Campaign for proper labelling
During the UK General Election of 2019, the organisation called for the next government to ensure food labelling showed where an animal was reared and slaughtered for all meat – including that where meat is an ingredient and part of an overall product. It argued" Country of origin food labelling must be mandatory for all processed meat to ensure a level playing field for hard-working British farmers after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.”
5.6. Key campaigns Opposition to Animal Rebellion
Following a planned occupation of Smithfield Meat Market in the City of London in opposition to the meat industry by animal rights group Animal Rebellion, the Countryside Alliance publicly stated that the groups activities would put the livelihoods of farmers and traders at risk. Speaking to The Telegraph newspaper, The CAs Chief Executive Tim Bonner said: "Their idea of a day out is to cause misery to others. They Animal Rebellion mask their political driven agenda by pretending to care about animals. They are fuelled by hatred of people and those that opt for an alternative lifestyle to them." A spokesman for the Countryside Alliance attended the occupation on 7 October 2019 to record a public video, opposing Animal Rebellion and calling on consumers to back UK farmers and sustainable meat production.
5.7. Key campaigns Campaign for Shooting
The Campaign for Shooting "gives a clear political and public voice to the shooting community". It lists its objectives as: to secure and enhance the long-term sustainability of the sport, and its associated land management practices, and to manage and reduce political risk at local, national and devolved levels.
On 12 August 2019, the Labour Party claimed that the financial benefits of shooting grouse were outweighed by the environmental cost and subsequently called for its review. The Countryside Alliances Director of Shooting Adrian Blackmore stated "those with any knowledge of grouse shooting and its associated management will know that some of the claims being made by Labour are complete nonsense, and if an independent review into grouse shooting would help increase Labours understanding of its considerable environmental, economic and social benefits, then it should be welcomed."
5.8. Key campaigns Campaign for Hunting
The inception of the Hunting Act 2004 on 18 February 2005 saw traditional foxhunting and other forms of hunting with hounds become restricted. According to its website, The Countryside Alliance supports all forms of legal hunting, but continues to make clear that it will oppose what they believe is ultimately a bad piece of legislation. The group has stated that the ban, brought forward by the then Labour administration under Tony Blair, is "the worst possible example of a law that was passed as an attack on a minority in society".
A proposed ban on trail-hunting and hound exercise on public land submitted by a Labour Councillor in Essex saw the Countryside Alliance campaign against the motion brought forward to Essex County Council on 14 May 2019. The motion was defeated at a meeting of the Full Council at County Hall.
Following an announcement by the Labour Party in August 2019 that it would strengthen the Hunting Act, the Countryside Alliance accused them of "reverting to class war" and said "We can’t get any straight answers on what the problem with foxhunting is or what solutions Labour have, other than they seem to desperately want people who wear red coats and ride horses in court".
5.9. Key campaigns Boxing Day Meet
The Countryside Alliance promotes the annual Boxing Day Meet of registered hunts throughout the United Kingdom, using an online mapping tool. It reports that around 300 hunts meet annually, with 25 in Yorkshire alone.
5.10. Key campaigns Digital communications
The Countryside Alliance campaigns for better broadband and mobile connectivity in rural areas.
During the UK General Election of 2019 the group welcomed an announcement by the Conservative Party, which pledged to fast-track a plan for a Shared Rural Network, which the Prime Minister Boris Johnson claimed would see new masts built and existing infrastructure shared between the four mobile phone providers – 02, Three, Vodafone and EE. CA spokesman said at the time "For far too long the countryside has been left behind when it comes to mobile connectivity."
The Countryside Alliance publicly opposed a policy announcement by the Labour Party in November 2019, which pledged to nationalise broadband and provide free full-fibre broadband by 2030. The group stated on its website that "The Countryside Alliance is concerned that Labours proposals to renationalise BT risks delaying broadband delivery in rural areas. By removing private investment and stifling competition, especially in the most remote areas of the countryside, they will disincentivise other tech businesses from delivering innovative solutions which are so important in closing the digital divide."
6. Hunting with hounds
The Alliance states that "the countryside is enriched by country pursuits, whose participants should be free from prejudice and discrimination."
The Alliance has long defended hunting and shooting, especially hunting with hounds, opposing the legislation the Hunting Act 2004 which came into effect in England and Wales in February 2005. Amongst other causes, the Scottish Countryside Alliance campaigns against the Protection of Wild Mammals Scotland Act 2002, which prohibited hunting north of the border. In 2002, the Alliance organised the Liberty & Livelihood March, one of the largest demonstrations in British history, with almost half a million people marching through London to demonstrate against the proposed ban. The Countryside Alliance mounted a series of legal challenges to the Hunting Act 2004 which were not met with success.
Following the first conviction under the act, on 4 August 2006, the Alliance reaffirmed its belief that legislation was "illogical and unclear" and vowed to support the appeal against the conviction, which was later successful.
Critics of the Alliance claim that this is the sole focus of the organisation, a claim it denies, saying that this campaigning is a response to the previous governments "preoccupation with the issue". On BBC Newsnight on 18 November 2014, Anne Mallalieu stated "Whats actually happened to the foxes.because of the growth of commercial shooting.foxes are being shot at night by lampers.people with bright lights shooting them with guns."
7. Countryside March: Liberty & Livelihood
In September 2002, the Countryside Alliance organised a march in central London to promote the interests of rural Britain. It was dubbed one of the largest marches of its type in history, with the BBC reporting around 400.000 in attendance. The Countryside Alliance hailed the march as a huge success and it called on the government to make a "considered response". While a central focus of the march was to show opposition to a ban on hunting with hounds in England and Wales, a wide range of other grievances from rural communities were also being linked with the demonstration around farming. Over 300.000 people were in attendance, including Iain Duncan Smith, Vinnie Jones, Edward Fox, Clarissa Dickson-Wright, Richard Foulds, Earl Spencer, and Michael Marsham, 7th Earl of Romney. Richard Burge, the then Chief Executive of the Countryside Alliance, said of the march "This is a march for the people and by the people and not simply rural people.The strength of support, not just from the countryside, but from towns and cities across the UK makes us feel both humble and proud." The British National Party had called for its members to join the march and support the countryside; however, the Countryside Alliance issued the following statement: "Everything we stand for is the opposite of what they believe in."
8. Countryside Rocks
The organisation has held fundraising rock concerts under the banner "Countryside Rocks" which have attracted support from stars including Pink Floyds Roger Waters, The Whos Roger Daltrey, Procol Harums Keith Reid, Roxy Musics Bryan Ferry, Eric Clapton and Genesis Mike Rutherford.
9. Conflict with conservationists
The Countryside Alliance has previously expressed repeated concern over the governance of the RSPCA, which it argues has resulted in the charity pursuing "extremely questionable activities". In 2017 the Charity Commission announced it would be intervening, complaining that the RSPCAs standards were unacceptably low, In 2018, the Countryside Alliances Chief Executive, Tim Bonner, argued that despite the intervention and recommendations by the Charity Commission, the RSPCA had not changed. In a 2013 interview with The Daily Telegraph, the Alliances executive chairman, Lieutenant General Sir Barney White-Spunner, called the RSPCA a "sinister and nasty" organisation and urged Alliance members to stop donating to it. The RSPCA responded by saying: "Sir Barney White-Spunners interview shows once again how far out of touch he and his colleagues at the pro bloodsports Countryside Alliance are with the reality of public opinion in this country." The Alliance has also criticised the RSPB and called for the sacking of TV presenter Chris Packham.
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