‘HANDS off our countryside!’

That was the resounding message this week as an environmental campaign group revealed plans to up its battle against housing on greenfield sites.

Silsden’s Campaign for the Countryside is planning a major fundraising drive so it can seek expert professional advice when future attempts are made to build large-scale homes schemes on land “rich in trees, hedgerows and birdlife”.

The group says it is stepping-up its activities in the face of “increasing challenges” to the local countryside and its wildlife.

Members first came together informally last year to oppose a controversial planning application for an ‘enabling road’ across fields in the Brown Bank/Hawber Cote area of the town.

Now the campaign has adopted a formal constitution, and joined the Council for the Protection of Rural England.

It also plans to be represented when Bradford Council reconsiders its housing allocation for Silsden, which is expected to take place early in the new year.

And it will soon launch a dedicated website which will serve as a public forum and receive countryside news, details of wildlife sightings, photographs, comments and ideas.

Campaign chairman, Mark Wogden, said the adoption of a constitution “committed the group to working for the protection of the natural environment and its bio-diversity and to promoting greater community awareness and appreciation of the local countryside”.

He added: “No one can fail to recognise the frightening impacts of climate change and the rapid decline of once-common species – but the solution lies with all of us and begins right where we are.

“We simply cannot continue to destroy more and more of our diverse countryside without profound implications for ourselves and the natural world.”

The campaign has won support from the award-winning author, naturalist and broadcaster, Mark Cocker.

He will visit Silsden in early spring to address a public meeting and lead a community walk across ‘under threat’ fields.

Mr Cocker will also open an arts and photographic exhibition focussing on nature.

He has written 12 books – his latest being Our Place - Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? – and well over 1,000 articles.

His last four works have been shortlisted for no fewer than nine awards, and three years ago he was awarded an honorary doctorate of literature from the University of East Anglia.

Mr Cocker's work has taken him to more than 50 countries, across six continents.

Earlier this year, a host of concerns – including the threat to greenfield land – were raised as part of a consultation on Bradford district’s housing needs. Bradford Council had earmarked Silsden for 1,200 new houses over the next few years, although that target has since been revised downwards.