Vital funding earmarked for the countryside could be reallocated to urban areas as part of controversial Government reforms, the head of the Countryside Agency has warned.
Dr Stuart Burgess said regional development agencies may be pressured into funding urban-based schemes instead of investing money into rural issues as part of a shake-up in rural delivery.
As part of the reforms, RDAs will take over the responsibility for funding rural projects from the Countryside Agency.
Advantage West Midlands is expected to gain control of a £7 million budget to spend on countryside schemes in the region as part of plans to give RDAs more responsibility in delivering rural projects.
Dr Burgess, chairman of the Countryside Agency, told The Birmingham Post: "I think the challenge will be for the RDAs and government offices to have a rural focus because many RDAs are, if not careful, quite lost within urban areas and have a lot of urban pressures. The challenge will be to take rural proofing seriously and to have a good rural strategy.
"There is always that possibility and always that concern that funding will go to urban areas instead of rural areas."
The reforms were announced in a reading of the draft Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill.
At the heart will be the creation of an integrated body, known as the Commission for Rural Communities, replacing English Nature, the Countryside Agency and the Rural Development Service.
This will act as a landscape, wildlife and environment watchdog, focusing on the disadvantaged.
Dr Burgess, who will become the Government's rural advocate as part of the changes, said the reforms would dramatically improve the current complex funding system.
"This is going to be the way forward to deliver a more focused approach in a very straightforward way. Instead of having a wide range of different funding streams, there will be one."
The former president of the Methodist Church, from Hall Green, said priorities for the commission included affordable housing, transport, and access to services.
The fall out from a ban on hunting with dogs would also be an issue, he added.
"The knock-on effect will be in certain pockets of the countryside and it will be pockets. The ban on hunting will create problems economically. We need to address that because it is all part of helping the disadvantaged.
"There will be pockets, perhaps around Exmoor and other areas, we shall have to see. But the knock-on effect will certainly mean people will be out of jobs and that all fits into the work our new commission will be doing."
"Hopefully, we are all rural advocates, but my particular job is to listen to people in rural areas, be able to make some sound judgements based on what I hear, and give the Government some clear signs about what it should be doing.
"We need to manage all these changes, but over the next five years or so, I believe they will deliver real benefits to the people of rural England - and, in particular, those currently 'shut out' from many of the opportunities others take for granted," he added.
An interview with Stuart Burgess features in this month's Rural Living magazine, out on March 16. ..SUPL: