NEW technology. Wonderful when it works, infuriating when it doesn't. But even here in the Dales, not an area usually identified with whiz-kiddery, it is slowly changing the way we live.

Today's subject, a lady who not only feels passionately about the Dales countryside but unlike some is prepared to work hard - for nowt - to preserve it and wouldn't be here at all if it weren't for the fax machine.

Back in the 1980s, Hilary Fenten and her husband Wilf seemed Londoners through and through, she working for a Roman Catholic peace organisation, and he as a translator. But Hilary had been in love with the Yorkshire Dales since childhood holidays and had inculcated her husband with similar passion.

Then came the fax. It meant that Wilf could work anywhere there was a phone line so in 1988 they upped sticks and bought a small but lovely farmhouse in Selside, the sort of tiny hamlet that epitomises the very soul of the hill country.

Hilary, born in Leicestershire and brought up in Bedfordshire where her father was the headmaster of a small village school, first trained as a teacher. But she was a young woman of strong beliefs, which led her to join a Catholic peace group even though she was an Anglican: "They were doing things I wanted to do."

One of the things she wanted to do most of all was to fight to protect the countryside and the wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales. And when the fax arrived on the scene, she and Wilf were one of the first trickle of what became a flood of city professionals who came here and set up "electronic cottages".

Retired, Hilary, now 65, threw herself into voluntary conservation work and, six or seven years ago (she is not quite sure) became "chairman" of the Craven branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, which was formed 80 years ago this year on St Valentine's Day.

Even the choice of the title "chairman" in this context is revealing. The CPRE, being one of England's oldest and most respected conversation bodies, has not yet fallen into the hands of single-issue, politically correct obsessives who can be a pain-in-the-bum to ordinary folk.

From time to time, I have to interview these people and if, as often happens, they are women, the question of their title always demands delicate negotiation. I object strongly to the word "chair" because I feel it is an insult to compare a woman to a piece of furniture; Hilary thought the word "chairwoman" was ugly.

"Call me what you like - let's not worry about something which is so unimportant," she said. So chairman it is and that trivial exchange held for me a considerable significance: here was a lady interested in getting the work done, not in boosting her self-importance with meaningless gestures.

And the work she and her small but growing group are doing really is of great importance. They have a strong but strictly pragmatic relationship with bodies like the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Craven District Council, happy to act as advisers, eager to pass on strongly held local views, but determined to fight hard and be downright nuisances if they disagree.

A good example of this is a recent row over the route of the Pennine Bridleway, the equine equivalent of the walker's Pennine Way, now being prepared by the national park. It passes alongside the River Ribble at Selside and the plans included a large (and expensive) bridge over the river.

Trouble was, the route lay through an area of extremely rare plants and crossed the river right in the middle of the salmon redds - breeding grounds - where the salmon spawn after their heroic journey across the Atlantic and up the river.

The Ribble salmon is already facing extinction - anglers are being asked to return any they catch unharmed to the water. A major construction project could have been the final nail in the King of Fish's coffin. Hilary's group knew this - and persuaded the national park to change the route.

"Although I sometimes get upset with national park members' planning decisions, I have a great respect for all the officers and wish to uphold the work that they do. Without the park, the landscape and the communities would not be as healthy as they are," she told me.

Now that's a view that many locals share - but few actually bother to express. Such pragmatism is the way to get things done, and Hilary Fenten and the CPRE have a long list of worthwhile campaigns which, hopefully, will keep local councillors on their toes and attuned to the views of their taxpayers.

Hilary, for instance, is furious about the "cloning" of market towns like Skipton, which could all end up looking the same as local shops are forced out by the national chains. Having lost one of my favourite shops in Skipton, Maple Leaf the photo processors, and with staff at another, Slater's, just made redundant, I couldn't agree more.

She wants speed limits, enforced by tough police action, in Dales villages plagued almost every weekend by ton-up motorcyclists; she wants to support "green" tourist schemes that do not destroy the tranquillity of the countryside; she hates 4x4 drivers who tear up green lanes for fun; she is worried about the disappearance of much-loved wildlife species like the yellow wagtail.

The wish list goes on and it is one that I could have written myself.

The CPRE may be 80 years old but it still has a lot to do. With calm, thoughtful but determined proponents like Hilary Fenten, I'll bet a lot of it gets done.