Those of us who live in the countryside know that this is a special place to live, but we’re also aware that it’s not without challenges.

On Friday, I joined delegates from organisations and environmental groups to discuss ways of improving life for people living in the countryside.

As a Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, this is a key part of my parliamentary role and I was pleased to join the panel of speakers.

But as one of my colleagues on the panel said, “Defra is in danger of becoming ‘Def.’” Rural affairs have slipped down this government’s priorities.

It’s 20 years since the Labour government introduced the first Rural White Paper; a substantive bill which brought £1bn of funding to communities as part of the drive to support them following the disaster wrought by foot-and-mouth disease.

It recognised the importance of shops, services and transport, and it funded valuable initiatives to support them.

Now it’s due a revamp, with rural communities continuing to face challenges.

The conference in Taunton was organised by the Rural Strategy Network (RSN), which is calling for the government to produce a long-term, funded Rural Strategy to ensure that policies in all areas are ‘rural-proofed’ and their impact on countryside life fully considered.

A new Rural Strategy should support: a thriving economy; a digitally connected countryside and affordable homes. It should also provide a fair deal on health and social care.

Cuts to services and changes to our high streets have fallen hardest on small market towns. Many of our towns no longer have a high street bank, for instance.

People living in rural areas deserve the same rights to services and opportunities as their urban counterparts, which is why it’s time to recognise that a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach fails those of us who love life in our rural communities.