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New Year: Time to tackle that left-out feeling
Friday, 27 December, 2002

Country columnist John Sheard argues that we need to put some steel into our New Year resolutions - or see the countryside left even further behind.

I AM writing this at 6 am on Boxing Day (such dedication) because I have other things to do later. This is, for country folk, a historic date: it is probably the last time in some two centuries that a great colourful spectacle of country life will take place.

    Out in the sticks
   
Daelnet - out in the sticks
Say goodbye, folks, to the hunt meet, for - make no mistake - most of them will be banned later this year under the Government's hunting with dogs bill.

Now I rush to say that this column will not be about fox hunting - we have gone into that in depth several times before - but a warning: it is time for country folk and their political representatives to stand up and be counted for our rights are being eroded almost by the day.

This year, more than any for decades, we need to put some real resolution - some bloody-minded guts - into our New Year resolutions.

The near ban on fox hunting is just one danger sign. Later in the coming year, the "right to roam" legislation will come into force, throwing almost all land in the Yorkshire Dales open to public access. This is a direct result of pressure from the left-wingers who run the Ramblers' Association from trendy Wandsworth in, of course, London.

British Telecom is desperately trying to avoid installing IT broadband technology into rural telephone exchanges - too much cash, not enough customers - and, as the coming year progresses, I forecast that the Royal Mail will push for powers to charge for delivering letters to out-of-the-way farms and cottages.

This would be a treacherous reversal of those Victorian pioneers who laid down the stipulation that anyone with the price of a Penny Black stamp in their pocket could have a letter delivered to any address in the land, however remote.

But there is worse to come. Most people in the Yorkshire Dales cannot receive Channel Five TV broadcasts. And if you have been thinking of buying yourself a digital TV set in the Winter Sales, forget it: apart from expensive Sky, there are no digital services to the area - and, according to my TV dealer, are never likely to be.

The final blow for me this Christmas came when I was buying a few presents for my wife and family in the Debenham's branch in the Skipton co-op, and expected to get a few points of my brand-new, much heralded Nectar awards card.

This has been set up by some of the major companies in the UK - Barclaycard, Sainsbury's, BP and the aforesaid Debenham's - to reward loyal customers.

But not in Skipton, that is. Apologising profusely, the assistant declined my as yet unused Nectar card saying: "Sorry - the management say we are not big enough here to justify the expense of changing the tills to take the card."

And there you have it in a nutshell. Because we country folk are thin on the ground, we are not worthy of being supplied with the latest services. Once again, we are being marginalized over money.

This, sadly, has been going on for some years now. But the strange thing is that I cannot remember any of our elected representatives - MPs or local councillors - making a fuss. If we were any other minority, our so-called "leaders" would be manning the barricades.

So I ask you to add to your list of New Year resolutions the decision to write to your MP and councillors and demand that he or she starts to act in our defence before the countryside is cast back to the Middle Ages. That's what we pay them for. It's high time they started earning their wages.

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