'As somebody who had an idyllic childhood growing up on a typical mixed farm, I found Oliver Rackham's The History of the English Countryside fascinating and disturbing when it was first published in the '80s.
Professor Rackham was a senior member of my college at Cambridge but I met him only briefly at our degree ceremony. When I read his book a few years later, I kicked myself that I had wasted an opportunity to listen to the great man.
The book describes how the countryside has been shaped by man over the centuries, a change achieved sympathetically by people conscious that they and their successors would continue to live in and off the land.
Then over the past 50 years it suddenly stopped being a diversely complex living thing and became ripe for short-term exploitation by ignorant policy-makers. The consequences are now clear. A countryside denuded of most of its life because this policy has driven out most enterprises.
The book celebrates the countryside but does not advocate preserving it in aspic. It drove home to me the point that, to survive, it needs to be a location for and source of employment.'