The Campaign for the Protection Rural England has said the government has yet to grasp the importance of preserving the countryside.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson published the long-awaited Rural Statement this morning. It sets out Government support for rural areas through a broad range of policies across departments.
It also highlights what Defra's plans to champion rural needs and circumstances across government.
CPRE said it welcomed the Statement but expressed disappointed by the sidelining of environmental issues.
Neil Sinden, Director of Policy and Campaigns at CPRE, said:
“It is encouraging to see the Statement makes clear that all of Government and not just the 'rural department' have responsibility for the countryside.
“We support and welcome Ministers' commitment to improving opportunities for walking and cycling in the countryside and to making sure there is sufficient rural affordable housing. We would really like to see more genuine action in these areas.
“However, as with much of current Government thinking, the statement is limited by its assumption that economic development is unrelated to the natural environment.
“Only by putting the environment at the centre of measures to achieve social and economic progress will the Government help to support a sustainable future for rural areas.”
Mr Sinden drew attention to changes to planning laws that could threaten the countryside.
It said Department for Communities and Local Government plans to liberalise permitted development rights on agricultural buildings could irreversibly damage rural landscapes and tranquillity.
“Some of the recent misinformed attacks on the planning system from the Treasury and elsewhere show that the Government has some way to go in understanding that a healthy economy and environment go hand in hand," Mr Sinden said.
“The new team of Ministers at the Defra has a great opportunity to ensure that rural growth and development enhance the very things that make our countryside so special; it's beautiful open landscapes, tranquillity and dark skies, and its distinctive villages.”
Defra said that central to its plans are initiatives, such as work on rural broadband and mobile phone networks to improve rural connectivity, the 5 Rural Growth Network Pilots and the rural economy grants which should stimulate growth and create rural jobs.
"It highlights the ways in which our policies are already benefiting rural areas, and presents further measures intended to secure a brighter future for rural people, businesses and communities," the department said in a statement.
"The Rural Statement recognises that local Government, the voluntary and private sectors each have a crucial role in delivering the services that rural people depend upon and it highlights the policies and good practice that are helping people to take local action, to meet their own needs.
"Whilst there can be no magic formula to solving all the challenges faced by rural communities across England, we believe policies outlined in this Statement will help create the conditions for rural England to thrive and prosper.
"We are working to ensure that rural circumstances are understood in national policy-making; enabling local authorities to deliver services more effectively on the ground; and empowering communities to identify and address their own local priorities."
Mr Paterson will present the Rural Statement to the Commons later today.