About Marion Shoard
I was born in the west of Cornwall in 1949 and spent most of my childhood in Ramsgate, east Kent. I read zoology at Oxford University and, in order to work in countryside conservation, spent two years at the then Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic, studying town and country planning.
I then worked for four years at the national office of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE), campaigning in fields ranging from national parks to forestry, and rural public transport to wildlife conservation. However, I had become more and more convinced that the main threat to the beauty and diversity of England's countryside was the expansion and intensification of agriculture and, with the help of a grant from the Sidney Perry Foundation, I left CPRE to research and write The Theft of the Countryside (1980).
This book struck a chord with the public and sparked off a lively debate, with thirty letters published in The Times, for example. During the following few years I wrote articles and gave talks on the book’s theme, lobbied on rural issues in Parliament and helped set up countryside action groups. The Theft of the Countryside included proposals to establish new national parks in lowland England.
A second book, This Land is Our Land (1987), examined the history of the relationship between landowners and the landless, and suggested it should be placed on a new footing. This book also attracted attention.
I presented a one-hour documentary on its subject matter made by London Weekend Television for Channel 4 and called Power in the Land.
During the next few years, I wrote numerous articles and gave many talks about a wide range of rural issues. I also taught countryside planning and land management to students at universities, including Reading and University College London. Gaia Books reissued This Land is Our Land, expanded and updated, as a Gaia Classic in 1997.
One element of the arrangements I had put forward in This Land is Our Land was the replacement of the UK's trespass régime with a general right of public access to the countryside, providing much greater freedom to roam.
With the help of grants from the Nuffield Foundation and The Leverhulme Trust, I set to work out how such a right could operate on the ground, after making trips to Scandinavia, France and Germany to see for myself the very different access systems operating in those countries. My conclusions on access were published in A Right to Roam (1999), which was acclaimed as Environment Book of the Year in 2000 by the Outdoor Writers Guild.
I have recently supported Jean Perraton’s call for a right to swim in inland waters in the UK, through penning the foreword to her book Swimming against the Stream: Reclaiming Lakes and Rivers for People to Enjoy .
My activities in the environment sphere were profiled in two articles which you can read here:
- The Essential Marion Shoard by travel writer Jim Perrin
- Accessing All Areas by environment journalist Caron Lipman.
And here is a short piece I wrote for The Guardian:
Older People's Affairs
It was just as A Right to Roam was being published that I suddenly found myself pitched into a very different world. My mother, then in her mid-80s and still living in Ramsgate, was developing dementia. Suddenly I was facing big decisions for which I was unprepared. Should I look after my mother myself? Should she go and live in a care home and, if so, how could I choose one I could trust?
After a long struggle, I managed to secure good care for my mother. I then set about assembling the advice I wished had been available to me during what had proved the most traumatic period of my life.
In A Survival Guide to Later Life (2004), I sought to provide comprehensive and straight-talking guidance not only for the relatives of frail elderly people but also for older people themselves, since I realised that my mother's final years could have turned out much better had she done some contingency planning. My Survival Guide thus covered everything from housing to hospitals, care homes to finance and equipment for disability to transport.
A Survival Guide to Later Life is currently out of print (although it remains available in public libraries and through second-hand book suppliers such as Amazon). I am currently writing another handbook which builds on the Survival Guide; this will be entitled Later Life: A Comprehensive Guide and published in 2011.
I now involve myself in both rural affairs and older people’s issues. I give talks, write articles and take part in television and radio discussions, sometimes offering guidance, at other times opinions and proposals to improve things. I am a vice-president of the British Association of Nature Conservationists and until very recently was a trustee of the Relatives and Residents Association (which seeks to help care home residents and their families). My involvement with the Alzheimer’s Society, particularly on a group which evaluates research proposals, has brought me, circuitously and unintentionally, back to the zoology which fascinated me at Oxford forty years ago.