Skip to content

Octavia Hill and a passion for the countryside

October 18, 2011

Despite being surrounded by people who don’t get very excited by the countryside ( my children are far more attracted by a day at the shops than a walk in the park), I do passionately believe that we neglect the countryside at our peril. Now I have to be honest enough to admit that I work for a campaigning organisation, Friends of the Lake District – just before someone comments that i have some vested interest in protecting the open spaces that surround us.

But the reality is that, for most of us, our need for the countryside is far greater than our ability to admit our need. We need to get into big spaces, not only to admire the view – but to regain our sense of perspective. If we live surrounded by office buildings and banks we can begin to believe that these institutions are the most important reality in our world – we are fooled into thinking that they are too big to fail…

But looking at a landscape of fields, fells and forests reminds us that there is a much older and deeper reality. That mankind was around long before our lives were determined by banks and governments.

This deeply held, possibly subconscious, need to be connected with the earth is demonstrated by the huge public outcry over the decision some months ago to sell off the Forests. It is demonstrated by the sense of disquiet over the proposed assumption that it is ok to build anywhere (NPPF), it is evidenced by the 4.2million people who join the National Trust, not just to give themselves somewhere to go on a day out, but something to belong to that will withstand the changes that the year bring.

Which brings me to Octavia Hill, this year we celebrate her life 100 years since she died. She was a remarkable woman who `got it`. She understood that people, particularly working people in cities, needed a connection to the wider countryside for healthy living. This led her along with others to found the National Trust, she supported the early campaigns to keep the Lake District undeveloped, (a battle that we at Friends of the Lake District continue today). She realised that people need to have a say in where they are housed, and that parks and open spaces to retreat too are much more than an added luxury for the well off.

It is ironic that, even as we celebrate the achievements of Octavia Hill, our public spaces are once again under threat, funding is being withdrawn from parks departments, Forests could yet be sold off, and town and village greens will see a further erosion  of the  protection they have if the ill thought out National Planning policy Framework is enacted.

One hundred years on, do we have anyone who is willing to dedicate their life to changing the lives of others as Octavia did, or will our lives amount to now more than “they survived the economic gloom”?

More than ever we need the massive landscapes that give us perspective on our lives, on our society, and on we might be able to do for the community that we live in.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: