Accessing the countryside should be as common as shopping to urban dwellers, the head of the Government's new rural quango said yesterday.
Dr Helen Phillips, chief executive of Natural England, set out her ambitions to encourage more people in inner cities to explore the countryside on their doorstep during a visit to the Malvern Hills.
Dr Phillips said Natural England, which will come into force in October, bringing together the Rural Development Service, English Nature and the Countryside Agency, would be using the West Midlands as a pilot to encourage more black and ethnic minority groups into rural areas.
The new organisation will have responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife, promoting access, recreation and public well-being and contributing to the way natural resources are managed so sites can be enjoyed now and in the future.
Dr Phillips said a major priority was to encourage a greater number of people from cities and towns to benefit from green spaces.
She said: "My long term aspirations are for many more people to access the countryside or urban green spaces more often and while I wouldn't like the experience to be the same as leisure shopping, the propensity for people to take it up needs to be as natural as leisure shopping. It is about us thinking about how people perceive the countryside."
She said efforts were already being made in the West Midlands to encourage black and ethnic minority groups into the countryside.
These include projects in Sutton Park in Sutton Cold-field and Coventry, where communities are encouraged to take part in a range of activities.
The move to boost visitor numbers in the countryside come despite certain honey-pots such as the Malvern Hills having to cope with the impact one million visitors a year have on the environment.
She said Natural England would look at managing a growing number of visitors alongside ensuring the future biodiversity of these popular areas.
She added: "The Malvern Hills highlight many of the problems facing the most attractive parts of the English countryside, especially farming in areas with a growing number of tourists. If we are to secure these for the future we must acknowledge challenges and opportunities.
"Natural England will seek balanced solutions to conserve and enhance the natural environment not only for its intrinsic value but for people's wellbeing and enjoyment and economic prosperity."
Action is already under way to restore the historic landscape of the Malvern Hills, with grazing sheep introduced to curtail encroaching scrub-land, resulting in the restoration of hill top grassland.
Dr Phillips said she was also keen on working with farmers, and exploring ways they could use the new Single Payment Scheme (SPS), where farmers are paid to manage their land rather than for what they produce, to help the environment and tourism.
She added: "There are farming leaders who describe SPS as protecting the environment and I think that is a stretch of the imagination. It is about payment to make farm-ers comply with regulations, some of which protect the environment.
"But it is a huge amount of money and if we can work towards environmental protection and enhancement we could see farmers less of a public customer and more of a supplier of public good."