A new report commissioned by CAMRA, brewers and others such as Cask Marque provides the answers. The Intelligent Choice - The True State of the Market for Cask Ale in 2007 has been written by respected beer expert Pete Brown. It pinpoints quickly the heart of the enigma - the behaviour of the big four multi-national brewers (InBev, Coors, Carlsberg and Scottish & Newcastle). Between them they control 76% of the beer market (which includes lager) and 56% of the ale market. They still market large volumes of real ale - things like John Smiths, Bass, Boddingtons, Tetleys and Worthington. However they have almost totally lost interest in their real ale brands because they can't "grow" them internationally like they can with stuff like Stella and Kronenbourg. It's these big brewery real ales which are in steep, if not terminal, decline and that's why the overall figures look so bad. Regional and local brewers, whose beers most of us would regard as infinitely superior anyway, are seeing sustained sales and volume growth.

The report concludes that real ale is ripe for further overall growth. Current consumer trends in food and drink feature demand for quality, character, local-ness and environmental friendliness - all areas in which real ale scores strongly. The biggest barrier is the simple fact that most people who don't drink real ale have never tried it - so there's a big challenge for CAMRA and others here. Perhaps a large-scale sampling programme would destroy misconceptions.

Here in Cambridgeshire we're especially fortunate in that nearly all our pubs sell real ales and we have lots of local brewers producing fabulous beers. It's not difficult to believe that the future looks bright but campaigning must go on.