We have condemned the cuts to national and local government services for countryside and public enjoyment.
Our general secretary, Kate Ashbrook, was the keynote speaker at the annual general meeting of the Surrey branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) on 3 July.
Kate was particularly critical of Surrey County Council’s intention to make its countryside estate ‘self funding’ by 2021 (Surrey County Council paper to cabinet, 16 December 2014, ‘The agreement with Surrey Wildlife Trust for the management of the county council’s countryside estate’).
Said Kate: ‘Surrey has a countryside to be proud of. It has many areas of registered common land, the third most commons of any English county (over 400), and much public open space, bought by a far-sighted county council over the last century. It is rich in woodlands and public paths. But now all that is under threat as Surrey County Council is forced to make massive cuts to its budget.
‘The council has a 50-year agreement with the Surrey Wildlife Trust to manage its land, but it is cutting its finances to the trust by £100,000 a year, more than ten per cent. Furthermore, Surrey has stated that it intends to “achieve a self-funding countryside estate” by 2021.
This nation has always invested in our countryside,’ Kate declared. ‘Even after the second world war when finances were tight, we spent money on the things that matter. We invested in our countryside and in people’s health and happiness and it brought us wonderful returns — our national parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty, and official maps of public paths.
‘We need our open spaces and freedom and fresh air more than ever. They are our Natural Health Service. Now is the time to spend on these vital assets, not cut back and expect them to pay for themselves.
‘The idea that we must make money out of countryside is abhorrent. The risk is that we shall destroy the unique beauty and tranquillity that it offers. Surrey Wildlife Trust is appointing a commercial development officer which is a far cry from protecting and managing nature.
‘We congratulate Surrey CPRE on its crusade to save our countryside from developers and destroyers, and we stand alongside ready to protect our rights to enjoy Surrey’s beautiful land.’