The Campaign to Protect Rural England in Staffordshire

Philip Good, the CPRE's Staffordshire Branch honorary Technical Adviser, was the Society's guest at their meeting on 23rd September when he updated members on the work of the CPRE and reflected upon the varied landscapes of Staffordshire.

The Council for the preservation of Rural England was founded in 1927. The 1930s saw a major period of urban expansion dominated by the rapid multiplication of the 'inter-war semi'. This was often accompanied by ribbon development along major highways as car ownership increased. In the light of pressures on our countryside at this time, and the realisation that some change was inevitable, the Council changed its name to reflect the desire to protect, as opposed to preserve, the countryside. Times have moved on yet again since that previous revision and the organisation has recently undergone a further name change to "The Campaign to Protect Rural England".

The Staffordshire branch was established in 1937. It, like other branches, operates as an independent charity under the overall stewardship of a London-based headquarters organisation.

So the CPRE has, throughout its varied existences, seen much change in our countryside. The first major Planning Act was passed in 1947, followed rapidly by the "National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act"; the latter introducing for the first time a legal recognition of the need to protect our countryside for its own sake.

Nevertheless the countryside has continued to change as a consequence of both planned and unplanned pressures. Dutch Elm disease has seen the arboricultural landscape change. Some ill thought out Government policies, promoting the removal of hedgerows in the interest of agricultural efficiency, have seen many thousand miles of hedgerow removed. Woodland cover has fallen by over 50% in the last 50 years and that which remains is quite often poorly managed - if managed at all. Increased mobility and greater leisure time has seen the countryside adopted as an urban playground. Housing demand has increased as household occupancy rates have fallen, reflecting the increased trend towards single parent families and the drive to support elderly people in their own homes rather than institutions. Added to that are the pressures of mineral extraction in the countryside. Some, like stone quarries, often leave a permanent scar whilst others, such as sand and gravel workings, may lead to the provision of residual water areas such as that between Lichfield and Burton on Trent.

In summary, Philip told us that the CPRE exists to fight unnecessary change, to promote the renewal and repair of the landscape and to ensure its enhancement.

We then journeyed around the Staffordshire countryside, visiting many of our diverse landscapes and calling in at our villages. The journey took us from Croxton Abbey though the Churnet Valley to Chartley Castle and Cannock Chase. On the way we visited Amerton, Newborough, Brewood, Sandon, Alrewas and Lichfield; looking at both English country houses and parkland.

Roger Hockney
September, 2003