2001 – 2010: local food, night skies and the search for tranquillity
The first decade of the 21st century saw us focus more on the experiences the countryside can give us: peace, the wonder of a clear starry sky and great local food. We also resumed litter campaigning, with the help of the Wombles.
CPRE developed a local foods campaign backed by Rick Stein. It showed the advantages of local, speciality foods to farmers, consumers and the countryside.
The following year saw us introduce a definition of local food in an attempt to reduce food miles and promote English produce. We challenged supermarkets to source 5% of stock from produce that had been grown and processed within a 30-mile radius. This definition was soon adopted by the wider food industry as an indicator of local distinctiveness, freshness and sustainability.
We stepped up our campaigning to save dark, star-filled night skies by publishing pioneering maps showing how light pollution is spreading rapidly across England.
CPRE also published its Guide to Quiet Lanes, helping campaigners save country roads from fast-growing traffic.
After strong campaigning by CPRE and others, the Government dropped plans to turn the A303 into a dual carriageway road through the Blackdown Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in Somerset.
Thanks to CPRE’s campaigning, light pollution became a Statutory Nuisance, as provisions in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 were implemented. To draw attention to the impact of sky-glow, we organised the UK’s first ever Star Count with the British Astronomical Association’s Campaign for Dark Skies. Thanks to some excellent national press coverage, nearly 2,000 ‘citizen scientists’ took part. This helped to highlight the places suffering from badly directed, inefficient outdoor lighting.
We launched groundbreaking tranquillity mapping based on research by Northumbria University, commissioned by CPRE. The project created the first ‘national’ definition of the concept of tranquillity, backed by opinion polling which demonstrated that peaceful relaxation is the most valued quality of the countryside. Our Saving Tranquil Places report argued that ‘we all need tranquillity for our mental, physical and spiritual health.”
We published our landmark report, The Real Choice: How local foods can survive the supermarket onslaught. This made a powerful argument for smaller retailers’ role in boosting rural economies and supporting farmers and growers.
We also joined forces with the National Farmers’ Union to publish a report on the immense value of the unpaid landscape conservation and enhancement work by food producers. We called for that to be reflected in fairer subsidies.
The energy regulator Ofgem included an allowance for undergrounding overhead lines in designated landscapes. This came after years of lobbying by CPRE and the Friends of the Lake District.
We developed a unique method of mapping countryside ‘intrusion’. This is the disturbance of rural areas by noise and visual signs of industry and urbanisation. The evidence showed that just 50% of the country was free from intrusive man-made distractions, compared to 75% in the early 1960s.
Our joint research with the RAC on street clutter found that up to 70% of the signs on our rural roads were not needed. They caused confusion for road users and damaged the quality of built and natural environments. We won support for our calls for ‘clutter audits’ that would restore views of the countryside, reduce accidents and save money.
Bill Bryson launched CPRE’s Stop the Drop campaign against litter and fly-tipping. This included a call for ‘action to introduce a nationwide deposit system for drinks containers’. This ‘would reward the public for returning used drinks containers, boost recycling and reduce litter.’ Around the country, 225 groups joined the campaign, picking up more than 30,000 bags of litter. The campaign launch was front-page news in The Times, while more than four million people watched Bill Bryson’s spin-off BBC Panorama programme, Notes from a Dirty Island.
CPRE and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust published a litter education pack for schools. How to Run a Whole School Litter Campaign was designed for primary schools and highlighted the longevity of littered plastic bottles and the danger they present to wildlife on land and sea.
We also launched Making Local Food Work. This was a major new project that helped people map their local food webs – the links between producers, retailers and consumers that help keep money in the local community.
We published Save Rural England – Build Affordable Homes. This was a joint charter with the National Housing Federation aimed at increasing the provision of the low-cost housing needed to sustain economic development and social facilities in rural areas.
During 2008 we had played a prominent role in the successful campaign to include the western Weald, Lewes and Ditchling in the planned boundary for a South Downs National Park. The South Downs was confirmed as England’s 10th National Park in early 2009, the culmination of an 80-year CPRE campaign. We played a key role in ensuring the National Park’s boundaries were as wide as possible – all eight extra areas of land CPRE recommended were included. Margaret Paren of CPRE Hampshire was elected as the first chair of the inaugural South Downs National Park Authority in early 2010.
CPRE and the National Hedgelaying Society launched an accreditation scheme in October 2009 to attract a new generation of hedgelayers and pass on traditional skills needed to create new hedgerows for the benefit of wildlife and the landscape.
CPRE groups contributed over half the responses to the government’s consultation on its new road safety strategy, calling for protection for rural walkers and cyclists. Thanks to this pressure, the government changed its guidance on speed limits, committing to trialling new 40mph zones on rural roads and making it easier to introduce 20mph zones in villages.
We undertook the first major investigation of the environmental state of green belt land and the benefits it provides for people and wildlife. Results published in early 2010 showed 80% of the public want to buy food produced on farmland in their local green belt.
CPRE’s Vision for 2026 was published in 2009, with the aspiration that by our centenary, “Green belt land is more attractive and more accessible, quality of life is given serious weight within the planning system, and many more people visit the countryside for pleasure and health and spiritual benefits” – leading to “a countryside valued and enjoyed by all as a huge national asset.”
We joined the National Housing Federation in publishing Affordable Housing Keeps Villages Alive. This guide outlined how communities can support schemes that meet local housing need on appropriate sites.
We joined a coalition of organisations in a campaign against a proposal for a massive factory-farming dairy unit at Nocton, Lincolnshire, providing expertise on planning and landscape issues. We also raised concerns about what a proliferation of these types of units might mean for traditional dairy farmers and landscape character. Over 1,000 CPRE supporters asked their MPs to sign a parliamentary petition against the development, which was scrapped in early 2011.