Foot-and-mouth has virtually done for our tourist industry, says the not-normally-soalarmist Observer . Less seriously perhaps, but more insidiously, what it definitely does threaten is the status of 'the countryside' in the lives of the urban majority.
Since the industrial revolution more than 200 years ago, the extremities of the city have needed the fantasy of the country, be it Constable's landscapes or Wordsworth's poetry. These days, a large chunk of Radio 4's output purveys rustic Mogadon to the city dwellers of middle England.
But now The Archers is so consistently angst-ridden it will soon be like tuning into a daily diet of Jean-Paul Sartre, and the programme devoted to walkers announced that from this week listeners should write in with their favourite metropolitan ramble. Could this mean the embryonic urban right to roam I have so frequently banged on about in this column? Urban battle gear is, after all, just Barbours coloured black, Doc Martens substitute effortlessly for green wellies, and, when you think of it, rambling favourite She'll be Coming Round the Mountain and Lou Reed's Walk on the Wild Side may be closer in content than we had imagined.
Not only is London honey by far the best, but to the fury of country dwellers like my mother-in-law you will see more variety of birds, insects and wild flowers in an acre of nature reserve in central London than in a week in the sticks. Just think of it: no fox-hunting, no ploughing, no motorways, no EC subsidies, no insecticide - just a 16-white-spotted ladybird so rare that it doesn't even appear in those patronising spot-thespecies guides for berks from the city. Sort out access, repeal the Criminal Justice Act so you can sit en masse for hours on end, and sleep under the stars without being moved on, and you realise the rural fantasy we never had. Cities are the new countryside.