The National Trust has failed to save fast-disappearing landscapes or to boost rural economies sufficiently, the director of the centre for the rural economy at Newcastle University, is set to say next week.
Instead it has concentrated too heavily on preserving stately homes and country estates, according to Philip Lowe, one of a group of academics invited by the trust to produce a book about its next 100 years. He says the trust is the only environmental body in the country with the power to buy large quantities of disappearing land with hedges, streams and ditches. As most of these features have disappeared, it should consider buying land and recreating it.
"The trust has not turned its attention to the threat posed by modern agriculture to the countryside," Professor Lowe said. Ignoring these issues means that people in cities cannot get access to nearby countryside.
The trust owns more than 1.5 per cent of Britain's land and is a major rural employer . Professor Lowe said: "It brings huge numbers of suburban people to the country. It could be an effective bridge between urban and rural communities."
The trust could point visitors towards areas whose economies need a boost.
Professor Lowe will be among academics speaking at the trust's centenary countryside conference next week. Bryn Green, professor of countryside management at Wye College, will present statistics showing that a third of UK farming land, six million hectares, could be released from agriculture by the end of the century. "There is a great opportunity to design, create and maintain a new countryside fit for the social, economic and environmental needs of the 21st century," he said. "But where is the vision?"