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England's green and peaceful land fading fast

The English countryside is shrinking rapidly, and much of it could disappear within 80 years unless there are curbs on new developments.

Alarm over the loss of undisturbed areas of the landscape is being raised today by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE). It has commissioned new maps charting the pace of construction that has changed the landscape since the early 1960s.

The striking images show that almost 50 per cent of England is now disturbed by roads, industrial developments, out-of-town retail and business parks and new housing estates.

The “intrusion” maps show exactly how the growth in motorways and roads, power stations, airports, railway lines, power lines, wind farms, mines, and quarries has affected the countryside. According to the CPRE, only 26 per cent of England’s land area had been disturbed by urban intrusion before the 1960s. This grew to 41 per cent by the early 1990s, and this year to almost 50 per cent, 25,614 square miles (66,399 sq km). The extent of incursion may be even greater, however, as the mapping exercise did not take into account the impact of aircraft noise.

The maps show that the main area of remaining, undisturbed countryside is in the National Parks – Dartmoor, Exmoor, the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, the Lake District and Northumberland – which have strong planning controls. There are also large swaths of deep, unfragmented countryside along the Marches of Herefordshire and Shropshire, and in the North Pennines.

Land in the South East is under the most pressure. In the past decade, 320 square miles (830 sq km) of countryside have been affected by the impact of new developments.

The CPRE is publishing the maps in the hope that they help to rein in the Government’s planned shake-up of the planning system making it easier to build new infrastructure. The CPRE is calling for more building on brownfield sites, and for greater promotion of public transport. Shaun Spiers, the group’s chief executive, said: “The countryside is one of our greatest national assets.”


square miles, England’s land mass


square miles affected by noise or visual intrusion today

By Valerie Elliott, Countryside Editor

The Times

10 September 2007