LARGE sections of England's rural population are preparing for war today in protest against what one Countryside Alliance member describes as a Government "jihad" - holy war - against the countryside.
Whether by deliberate planning or pure accident, two pieces of legislation destined to cause widespread bitterness will come up on the political calendar in the space of just five days - and both are expected to meet with stiff resistance.
On Wednesday, the Government is expected to push through the House of Commons its anti-hunting bill and is threatening to push on with its reforms of the House of Lords if peers oppose the measure.
And next Sunday, Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael will take part in two triumphant marches by militant ramblers to mark the coming into force of the Right to Roam acts, which will throw open millions of acres of hitherto private land to hikers - or day trippers looking for new picnic spots.
The first march will be in the Trough of Bowland, on the Lancashire border with the Yorkshire Dales, and the second on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire, scene of mass protests in the 1920s when Communist-inspired ramblers singing the Red Flag clashed with game keepers.
There are still hundreds of unsettled appeals against right to roam maps and the Government has still not addressed the single biggest worry of farmers: that they will be sued for damages should any visitor suffer injuries of their land.
On Wednesday, thousands of Countryside Alliance supporters are expected to gather outside Parliament to mark their protest. The last such demonstration took 500,000 people to London but as one observer noted:
"Any demonstrations this week will just be the opening skirmishes of a long war. The government, which promised so much for the countryside after the foot and mouth debacle, is now showing it's true colours by criminalizing law-abiding people. We will not take that lying down."