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For the love of the countryside

For the love of the countryside

At CPRE, so much of our campaigning relies on practical issues and statistical evidence that we sometimes neglect to talk about the emotional side of our work. Very few Government consultations ask for people’s feelings about the countryside, and planning appeals hinge on the interpretation of policies rather than the passionate testimony of local people. Perhaps it is time for this to change?

In his first major speech as Environment Secretary last summer, Michael Gove revealed that 'the promptings of the heart' were just as important as 'hard calculation' to his environmentalism. He reminded groups like CPRE that we have the 'capacity to move hearts more powerful than any other set of institutions in our civil society', promising that his department’s approach would be to, 'in Byron’s words, "love not man the less, but nature more".'

Mr Gove spent his formative years with his 'head in Wordsworth', whose famous line that 'Nature never did betray the heart that loved her' is even more laden with meaning in the context of climate change. Just as Wordsworth wrote that his love of 'this green earth' anchored 'all my purest thoughts', so it engenders our own efforts to care for, understand and introduce others to, the natural world.   

While this love is difficult to quantify, we must do more to recognise the link with the positive behaviour and voluntary acts it inspires: from the painstaking picking of litter to the conscientious creation of neighbourhood plans. In my first six months as CPRE’s chief executive, I have met hundreds of people engaged in such activities whose love for their countryside gives them an unparalleled insight and great spiritual wealth. Yet so often, when it really matters, their voices are relegated below those of business and development.

Society would benefit hugely if Mr Gove could convince some of his cabinet colleagues to give more weight – especially in planning decisions - to the love of place and beauty, and the knowledge and good deeds that accrue from it. After all, he should know better than most that experts don’t have all the answers.

So, this Valentine’s day, be sure to renew your love for your local patch. In the words of William Morris: ‘I promise that anyone who goes with open eyes into any unspoiled countryside will find a paradise that will cry out to them in a voice not to be resisted: “Love the earth which you dwell upon, and the soil which nourishes you”.’

An edited version of this blog was published in the February issue of The Countryman

So, this Valentine’s day, be sure to renew your love for your local patch.

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