Britain has an increasingly unique position among the world’s most powerful countries: a love for the countryside. In France, Italy and Spain, rural areas are being depopulated by the locals, only to have their houses bought by Britons seeking to live the rural dream. In Japan, the problem is reaching crisis levels, as I learnt when summoned to the Japanese Embassy to suggest solutions. How much, the first secretary wanted to know, did the British Government pay people to move to the countryside? He barely believed me when I said that the problem was rather the reverse: our concern was one of affordable housing for the young who already lived there and wanted to continue doing so.
It may not help that the Emperor of Japan rarely leaves Tokyo, when our Royal Family have been champions of the countryside for generations, but, I begin to realise, a love of the countryside is almost a birthright of being born British. Our passions are walking, dogs, gardening and, increasingly, local food. These are part of our national characteristic. If you can live in the countryside, you do. Our countryside is abuzz with field sports, operas, wonderful buildings and a matchless landscape. What I hadn’t considered was how unique this love is. It’s called being British.