Marion Shoard | Writer : Broadcaster : Speaker

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.
Channel 4 Documentary: Power In Land
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.

In 2005, I 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 PDF File.

I was delighted to see that the Scottish Parliament introduced a legal right of responsible access to the countryside in one of its first laws, the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003. I have long considered that if a general right of responsible access on foot to the countryside is not enacted in England and Wales (as I urged in my books This Land is Our Land and A Right to Roam), we should add further categories to the types of land to which the Countryside and Rights of Way Act of 2000 provides access, most obviously woodland, parkland and river- and lakeside. A Right to Roam examines the extent of access to these features and the feasibility of introducing wider access to them, while I explore the case for a right of access to woodland alone in an article entitled ‘Into the Woods’ published in The Land in 2018.

The Countryside and Rights of Way Act, 2000 provided a highly damaging sop to landowners in return for the introduction of a right of access to stretches of mountain, moor, heath, down and coastal land. Under section 53, rights of passage along routes in the countryside of England and Wales which were never incorporated into the official maps as public rights of way will be extinguished on 1st January 2026, if no claim to add them to the official maps has been submitted by then. Conversations with county footpaths officers as part of the research for my book This Land is Our Land revealed that two of the most important reasons for the omission of many routes was confusion about which ones should be recorded as rights of way and the power of landed estates in the parish councils in the 1950s and 60s which provided much of the data on which the official maps were based. I believe that the provision for removal of these historic rights of passage should be repealed forthwith, as explained in this letter published in 2020 in the New Statesman.

My activities in the environment sphere were profiled in two articles which you can read here:

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?

Marion ShoardAfter a long struggle, I managed to secure good care for my mother in a long-term NHS facility. 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. In 2017 my new book was published. How to Handle Later Life is far longer than the Survival Guide and largely replaces it. You can see the contents and four sample sections here. There is more information about my involvement in the world of older people here.

I now involve myself in both environment 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 situations. I am a vice-president of the British Association of Nature Conservationists and have been 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 in a group which evaluates research proposals, has brought me, circuitously and unintentionally, back to the zoology which fascinated me at Oxford fifty years ago. Since 2019, I have also volunteered with Healthwatch Medway and been a member of the executive committee of Christians on Ageing.