IF there is a piece of land which is forever England, it is the Dedham Vale.

Immortalised by painter John Constable, the area of outstanding natural beauty epitomises England's green and pleasant lands.

But it might not be so had it not been for the watchful guardianship of the Dedham Vale Society.

The group was established in 1938 to protect the peace and tranquillity of the Dedham Vale, an area which stretches for nearly 14 miles through undulating fields and along the water meadows of the River Stour.

Over the years, the group has fought and won many victories - not triumphs on the world stage, perhaps, but ones which are important to preserving the vale.

The historic coaching arch of the Sun Inn pub in Dedham might not exist today had it not been for the society and planes taking holidaymakers to sunnier climes might well fly over the area had the group not stood firm, taking the battle all the way to the High Court.

The Dedham Vale was granted some level of protection when it was designated as an area of outstanding natural beauty in 1969 but this picturesque setting is still under threat from developers.

Kate Warburton, the new honorary secretary of the Dedham Vale Society, understands and accepts the need for housing - but says it is a question of balance.

"The expansion and regeneration of cities is important but there has to be balance between urbanisation and the countryside."



Kate, is a proud Essex girl, born in Maldon and raised in Danbury.

Her father, Wilf Tolhurst, moved to Langham Hall in 1992 and Kate was married to husband, Charlie, in Langham Church, which is on the 500 acre estate.

They now live in Langham Farm, yards away from both the hall and the church.

Mr Tolhurst was chairman of the Dedham Vale Society until he died in a sailing accident in Cannes in 2008.



Kate said: "He would stand and look at the view of the Dedham Vale.

"He loved trees, he would count them, and he loved the peace and quiet."

Kate studied agriculture at Newcastle University and went to work in London fundraising for a charity.

A glitzy event could raise £500,000 with cars and holidays being auctioned off to wealthy bidders. Kate loved the buzz and vibrancy of living and working in the City.

But when she had her children, Ben, 18, and Abbi, 16, she started to think about the world her children would grow up in.

"When I was having my son, I moved out of London.

"You start to think about the future, what the world will be like for future generations.

"It is not just about the here and now.

"I became much more aware of the environment and how important it is to look after it.

"I thought are we going to have a beautiful world?"

She now loves the countryside, the wildlife, the views and the peace.

Kate, 45, believes her father would be proud of her decision to take on the role of honorary secretary for the society.

She takes over from Sarah Carr, who has served in the role for 25 years, and is joining a committee of unrivalled quality. Its president is Robert Erith CBE with noted architect Quinlan Terry CBE on the committee and award-winning journalist Charles Clover as its chairman.

Their united purpose is to protect the Dedham Vale.

"It is about protecting a place of natural beauty," said Kate.

"It is not about keeping it the same, it is about making sure we don't lose the quality of what we have.

"We are here to be a voice for the countryside."

The latest battle saw the society take on the Bunting family over the Horkesley Park heritage centre, part of which would have been in the Dedham Vale.

"It was the wrong location for the project," she said.

"The A134 is a small road and cannot cope with the traffic it has now.

"We also did not believe it would end there and felt it would become even more commercial."

She added: "Amazing things are currently going on around the football stadium.

"The development is creeping towards the countryside. When will it go over the A12?

"I can understand people wanting to cash in on their land but there needs to be those who question 'Is this right?'

"Our society is not necessarily confrontational, we work more through negotiation.

"My father was really helpful and could bring people to the table. I think that was because he was a legal man. I think he wanted everyone to talk and find a way forward."

There are now 200 members of the society and Kate, who works as a counsellor with Colchester's Youth Enquiry Service, hopes to recruit new and younger members to the ranks.

"I believe you can make a difference.

"If we all sat back in our armchairs, what will be the future?"

She is clear their motives are not nimbyistic, protecting their rural idyll from greedy developers.

"The countryside is for everyone. It feeds the soul, it touches you, it lifts you.

"I think our society has become increasingly secular but being in the countryside puts you back in touch with your inner being.

"The world is full of stress and anxiety but it is incredibly soothing to be outside in the countryside.

"The Dedham Vale is beautiful and special.

"This is England for me, our green and pleasant land."