Dorothy Fairburn: Celebrating the countryside and its unsung heroes

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This weekend, for the first time in 12 years, the CLA Game Fair will return to Harewood House near Leeds. Between today and Sunday we are expecting to welcome some 150,000 visitors from all over Europe and generate in excess of £30m for the regional and wider rural economy. From food to falconry and ferrets to fishing rods, it will be a celebration of all that is great about the British countryside.

THIS weekend, for the first time in 12 years, the CLA Game Fair will return to Harewood House near Leeds. Between today (Friday) and Sunday we are expecting to welcome some 150,000 visitors from all over Europe and generate in excess of £30m for the regional and wider rural economy. From food to falconry and ferrets to fishing rods, it will be a celebration of all that is great about the British countryside.

As a proud Yorkshire lass, I am delighted we have been able to bring what is widely recognised as the jewel in the crown of the outdoor show calendar back to God’s own county – not only for the kudos but also for the opportunity to tackle a growing rural/urban divide.

When the first CLA Game Fair took place in 1958, it was at a time when the majority of the population was well aware of the role that the land had to play in supporting and feeding a post-war nation.

Fast forward 60 years and we now live in a much more urban-focussed country where the younger generation in particular have never been more disconnected from nature. Tales of school children who have never seen a cow or a chicken in real life or who think that vegetables grow on the aisles of supermarkets were once amusing anecdotes but are now worryingly familiar.

Clearly, children and their parents are spending less and less time being active in the great outdoors and this is one of the main reasons we have made sure that all children will be able to attend this year’s show for free. This inactivity is also having a detrimental effect on our nation’s health with recent statistics showing that a staggering 67 per cent of men and 57 per cent of women are now either overweight or obese while more than a quarter of children are too.

Harewood is the only CLA Game Fair venue to be situated so close to a major urban conurbation and one of my great hopes for this weekend’s show is that we will attract plenty of families from Leeds and neighbouring towns and cities to give them a taste of what the countryside has to offer. From sports such as fishing, kayaking and archery through to the simple pleasures of walking around the grounds of the stunning Harewood House, it will be a chance for thousands to have a go at a healthy new pursuit for the first time.

But it is not just in the sedentary lifestyle of the British population where the rural/urban divide is obvious. It also runs throughout politics and nowhere is this more evident than in the regional devolution debate, which is primarily focussed on cities and towns with grand plans for road and rail infrastructure projects, designed to boost urban-based business.

But as the CLA revealed at the Great Yorkshire Show earlier this month, the rural economy is a major force in the region that cannot be overlooked. Food and farming contributes £100bn a year to our economy and employs one in eight people. Food is already our biggest manufacturing industry, bigger than cars and aerospace combined. Here in Yorkshire, 54,000 rural businesses are responsible for outputting a massive £17 billion worth of goods and services, while employing more than 400,000 people.

The countryside is well and truly open for business but it needs a framework of support that recognises the challenges facing rural businesses, such as lack of broadband, inconsistent planning policies and a severe shortage of affordable housing.

Far too often, decisions taken by urban-based policy makers unfairly penalise the hundreds of thousands of people in our region, who live and work in the countryside. A devolved Yorkshire must have strong rural representation at its heart to ensure those who make their living from the land can continue to prosper.

Last but by no means least, the CLA Game Fair offers an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the unsung heroes of our countryside – gamekeepers. There is much talk of “protecting” the countryside from various threats but gamekeepers have been quietly managing and protecting some of our most iconic landscapes for centuries.

I am delighted that gamekeepers from the Zetland Estate near Richmond, Keldy Castle near Pickering and Brahman Park near Wetherby will all be collecting hard-earned medals for 40 years or more service to the countryside.

Our region boasts some of the country’s most spectacular rural landscapes, much of which is underpinned by the work of gamekeepers, yet public recognition of this is rare. Modern gamekeepers need to have environmental and ecological skills and a good understanding of modern technology as well as a deep-rooted understanding of the countryside and its wildlife. The Game Fair will be a great opportunity to say a public thank you in front of a home crowd.

Yorkshire’s countryside is a living, breathing and working environment and I hope that the people of our county will come together, as they did for last year’s Tour de France Grand Depart, to celebrate the great outdoors and make sure that this year’s CLA Game Fair is the best ever.

Dorothy Fairburn is regional director of CLA North.

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