The harmonious marriage of people with nature has long been Britain’s special gift to civilisation. The most densely populated big country in Europe retains an astonishing expanse of what we call countryside, upland and lowland landscapes undisturbed by urban or suburban development. Much is of intense beauty, the Scottish and Welsh uplands, the Lake District, the Pennines and Peak District, the Cotswolds, Exmoor and Dartmoor. Also guarded are river valleys and rolling farmlands, even quite close to big cities. Towns and villages remain as settlements distinct from their surrounding country.

None of this just happened. It arose from a work of lasting political genius, post-Second World War town and country planning. Whenever the British are asked what they most treasure about their country-the Royal Family, Shakespeare, the NHS-its rural landscape never fails to be mentioned. Although it is ever-changing, its appeal is the same. Yet it has never been so threatened or so sorely in need of defenders. It is Britain’s National Gallery of nature.

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Image: The Yorkshire Dales, Alamy