Bill Bryson notes from a small county

PUBLISHED: 16:24 17 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:35 20 February 2013

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson

BILL Bryson found fame as a travel writer and he is still on the move. After ten years in journalism he wrote the first of his shelf full of best-sellers and he is now president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

BILL Bryson found fame as a travel writer and he is still on the move. After ten years in journalism he wrote the first of his shelf full of best-sellers and he is now president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England.

His books are laced with humour and charm derived from his viewpoint as a fascinated and slightly bewildered outsider. But although he is, as he is always described, affable, cheery and jolly, he is starting to get angry.

His presidency of the CPRE follows a long-running personal crusade against litter, but he maintains the air of an accidental hero. The growing piles of litter he saw as he travelled the country annoyed him and he began to ask people at book signings and lectures to contact him if they too felt something ought to be done. He ended up with more than 900 emails in his inbox.


'I found myself at the head of this small army of disgruntled people, and I didn't know what to do with them,' he says. 'I thought, I don't know how to run a campaign, what am I thinking of? But I figured that those 900 people were just a specimen sample of the strength of feeling out there, and that we must tap into this in some way and see if we can't make a difference.'

He approached the CPRE where he was welcomed with open arms and will be officially elected as their president for the next five years, taking over from newspaper columnist and military historian Sir Max Hastings, at the AGM this month. 'Litter and fly-tipping are particular problems I'd like to see progress on; that has got much, much worse in the time I've been over here, it is becoming a chronic problem in some parts of the country and I think it needs to be much more of a priority.

'I have said there should be a shoot to kill policy for offenders. Maybe that's a bit much but I do think there should be stiffer fines and community service orders for fly-tippers. That would get the message across loud and clear that it will not be tolerated. A fine of 250 for dropping litter and 2,500 for fly-tipping would surely make people think twice.'

He is on a train as we speak, making his way home to Norfolk, and he adds: 'I'm looking out of the window and almost the entire route is lined with litter of one sort or another, and it's the same story along most major roads and railway lines as well, they are lined with unacceptable amounts of litter.


'In the towns there is litter but it gets swept up. In the countryside litter doesn't have a friend. It doesn't have anybody who's saying, wait a minute, this is really starting to get out of control.'

But contacting the CPRE about a litter campaign and becoming their next president are very different things. 'I read all their policy documents before I said yes and there was nothing in there I didn't agree with,' he says. And he insists the outlook isn't all doom and gloom. 'The countryside here is still in pretty wonderful condition. I don't think in any way that what England needed was a foreigner to come in and sort out a load of problems but I would argue that in some ways it's helpful for me to be an outsider because it means I really appreciate what there is here and don't take any of it for granted.'

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