DAVID CAMERON’s appointment of a “true countryman” to the new shadow cabinet is the strongest sign yet of the Conservative Party’s commitment to rural issues.

Nick Herbert, the new shadow environment secretary, was a former political director of the British Field Sports Society (BFSS) and founding member of the Countryside Movement — now the Countryside Alliance (CA).

CA political director John Gardiner described Mr Herbert’s appointment as “wonderful for our community”.

Mr Herbert was master and huntsman of the Newmarket Beagles for 14 seasons. Before that he was master and huntsman of the Trinity Foot Beagles and whipped-in to the Essex Foxhounds.

“He was one of the ‘good thinkers’ in the early years [of the CA and BFSS],” said Mr Gardiner. “For all his many qualities as a politician, he’s also a countryman and understands how the countryside ticks. Key to his appointment is that he has a rural background, has many farms in his [Arundel and South Downs] constituency and is sympathetic to the needs of the environment, food and farming.”

Mr Herbert told H&H: “I am passionate about defending rural communities and protecting the environment, and I feel strongly about the importance of farming to the economy and the countryside.

“I am looking forward to this challenge on important issues that are close to my heart.”

Richard Benyon, MP for Newbury, has been appointed shadow Defra minister. He was elected following work by Vote-OK in the 2005 campaign.

Vote-OK founder Charles Mann said: “Vote-OK volunteers supported Richard’s 2005 general election campaign as he was standing against an MP who was hostile to rural interests.

“His appointment is great news for the countryside — as a farmer he has a breadth of knowledge of the industry and a deep understanding of rural issues, plus he is firmly committed to repeal.”

Announcing his new team on 19 January, Mr Cameron said he has the “strongest possible shadow cabinet” in place for a general election.

This news story was first published in Horse & Hound (29 January, ’09)