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New countryside guardian for East Durham

May 22, 2023 | Leisure & Lifestyle

The new head of a charity that stands up for County Durham’s countryside has appealed for members of the public to join him in defending its rolling fields, woods, rivers, streams, and ponds.

Wingate farmer Andrew Thompson, who is the new chair of the Durham branch of CPRE, the Countryside Charity, says now is the perfect time to become part of a group that has traditionally defended the countryside against inappropriate development.

In East Durham, that has tended to involve objecting to housing estates, solar farms, and caravan parks when their development has been judged bad for the countryside, the community, or both.

Andrew, who takes over from long-serving 93-year-old Pitch Wilson, said: I’m delighted to be the new chair of a charity which is the only one whose role is solely to speak up for the English countryside.

“The environment has rarely been higher up the public agenda, especially with young people, than it is now and I’m excited about doing my bit to help convert that interest into action.

“There’s much that we can do individually – it might be not dropping litter, or picking up the litter of others, making sure our dogs are under control in the countryside or being conscious of the countryside code.

“But acting together, we can make much more of a difference and I believe CPRE is the perfect group for people coming together looking to pool knowledge, experience and enthusiasm to develop a protective network for the countryside of County Durham.

“So I would invite people to get in touch to have a chat about what they might be able to contribute.”

Andrew says local action is vital to ensure that threats to the countryside are identified and challenged all across the county.

He said: “To be really effective, we need eyes and ears on the ground, especially in places like East Durham.

“CPRE’s reputation has always been one of groups of people who scrutinise planning applications and highlight the protections the planning process provides to the countryside and we’re going to continue doing exactly that.”

Defence of the countryside has sometimes led to CPRE members being accused of being NIMBY’s (Not in my backyard) but Thompson refutes that claim and says the countryside can offer solutions to many of the problems facing the country in the 21st century, including the climate crisis and the need for a green transition.

He said: “The public is now more aware of how much the countryside absorbs carbon and how actions like rewilding can improve the land, and that should be encouraged.

“We’re in favour of renewables in the right places and while we might not want to see the countryside over-industrialised with solar and wind farms, we can support them if the right sites are found.

“Overall, we favour the push towards renewable energy because it’s in the long-term interests of our countryside.”

As a farmer, Andrew also feels his own community can support CPRE’s aims and has pledged to work with the National Farmers Union and County Landowners Association wherever possible.

“I believe that over 99% of all landowners deeply care for their environment and take the view that they would like to leave that land in a better condition than when they took ownership of that land,” he said.

“Working with other organisations, CPRE Durham can help maintain and improve the diversity of our landscapes, flora, and fauna for future generations.  

“Where our land is needed for other uses there are sufficient mitigating measures to put in place to ensure our natural landscape can be preserved and even enhanced for future rural enjoyment.”

If anyone wants to know more about CPRE, the Countryside Charity, they can go to https://www.cpre.org.uk/. For inquiries about CPRE Durham, please email gsamedia4u@gmail.com or ring 07739 300 692.