The countryside

I can accept that the countryside consists of mainly farmland, but I cannot accept the view that the countryside consists of nothing but the farming industry. In fact it’s probably reasonable to say that modern farming is destroying the countryside. Pesticides and chemical fertilizers are responsible for causing immense damage to the countryside, converting it from it’s natural state to a baron and sterile landscape where the only thing living is the thing the farmers put there. Even the good-guy organic farms are hard to maintain as “Mr Countryside” next door is indiscriminately spraying chemicals all over the place.

Once all the natural undergrowth has been killed off, it’s time to start on the wildlife. For decades now there have been badger culls in the South West of England aimed at deciding if badgers transmit bovine TB. Badgers are captured in traps and then shot the next day by the nice man from DEFRA. This alone doesn’t kill enough badgers for the farmers liking, so industrial measures are taken, such as pumping poisonous gas into the badger sets so they can be killed off in larger numbers. To my utter disbelief I’m now hearing discussions on the news that they may attempt to eradicate badgers.

It seems we have reached a point where nature is perceived as an inconvenience. The countryside is no longer a complex self-sustaining ecosystem, it’s a factory floor that must be customised to maximise productivity at all costs. It’s also jealously guarded and trespassers will be shot, gassed or poisoned. The time is coming when I’ll have to drive from the countryside to a city in order to see wildlife, in a zoo.

The biggest irony of all is that the group largely responsible for destroying the countryside and its natural inhabitants is called “The Countryside Alliance”.

From The Countryside Alliance website:

The Alliance campaigns on a wide range of rural issues under the headings:
food, environment and rural affairs

So the self-proclaimed defenders of the countryside are in fact concerned with killing wildlife and the conversion of countryside for the production of food. I dispair sometimes.

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One Response to The countryside

  1. Loopy Lou says:

    Having attended Glos College of Agriculture for nigh on three years, and having obtained my diploma in The Science and Practice of General Agriculture, albeit 19 years ago, I am bound to have quite strong views about these subjects.

    Firstly the largest owner of British countryside as a whole is The Forestry Commission, owning 800,000 hectares. The National Trust coming a close second with over 250,000 hectares of land, throughout England, Wales and N.Ireland.

    Controlling The British Countryside (Perc website)

    By Matt Ridley

    ” Britain’s countryside is being gradually nationalized. The process is not, of course, called nationalization. It usually goes under the name of environmental policy. Yet the effect is to remove, one by one, the property rights of landowners large and small and to vest those rights in agencies of the state.

    There is no dispute over whether this is happening. It has proceeded with virtually no interruption under Labor and Conservative governments alike. Only a few people, myself among them, think it is a bad thing.

    It began, like other nationalizations, with direct acquisition of land. In 1919, in response to a shortage of timber during the First World War, the government set up the Forestry Commission to acquire land with government money, plant it with trees, and harvest the trees for the Treasury. This the Forestry Commission proceeded to do with gusto, gradually becoming one of the largest landowners in the country. It now owns more than 800,000 hectares (1,976,800 acres); in Scotland it owns more than 6% of the entire country. As befits a nationalized industry, the commission has lost money for 80 years-it typically loses about £50 million per year (about $75 million).

    This state forestry has also been an environmental disaster, replacing native moorland with plantations of exotic Sitka spruce in even-age, densely-spaced forests. The forests not only mar landscapes and alter the ecology but offer little employment.

    Not content with owning its estate, the Forestry Commission has also acquired the rights to regulate the trees on private land as well. It did this by subsidizing tree planting by private landowners, at first through the tax system. The Commission now has general power over all planting and felling in the countryside. No landowner may fell a wood or replant it without a license from part of the Commission, which must be sought in sextuplicate and takes a month or more to process. The bureaucracy reserves the right not just to refuse such applications but to micro-manage them- insisting on the planting of certain species of tree, for instance.

    Some other arms of government followed the Forestry Commission’s example of acquiring land for themselves. But bureaucrats soon realized that the direct acquisition of land by the state was unnecessarily expensive, and that the subsidize-and-regulate route offered more possibilities for empire-building.

    Agricultural subsidies, too, are tightening government control. Sheep subsidies led to overgrazing. This was solved, once more, by regulation: sheep counting to catch cheaters is now a national duty as well as a way of falling asleep. In 1992, subsidies for agriculture expanded from products to land. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and Food (MAFF) asked farmers to file detailed maps of how every hectare of arable land had been planted every year. As expected, this system gradually became more officious. Any mistake in form filling by the farmer is punished with a heavy fine, while frequent mistakes by MAFF bureaucrats in processing the forms go unpunished.

    Meanwhile, beginning with the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947, the planning laws had begun their long, slow growth. Planning was at first a matter of designating where development could not occur: hence the green belts around cities and the first National Parks. But by the 1990s, planning had changed to specifying where development could occur. Structure Plans and Regional Planning Guidances became ever more prescriptive, designating some areas for industry, some for housing, and some for open space. The lobbying to influence these plans fertilized a whole new industry of planning consultants who were richly rewarded for reports that were weighed rather than read.

    Development quickly became the preserve of big firms who were able to lobby local government and afford consultants. The individual lost leverage, and the system blighted the countryside with large, monotonous developments. The restrictions on development made the projects that did get through highly profitable, which perversely encouraged landowners and developers to pursue planning even more vigorously. With 40% of the price of a new house being the cost of the land it stood upon, the cost of restriction was borne by the house buyer and harvested by the landowner.

    Moreover, special interests have gradually captured the “planning process” for themselves by supplying their expertise to planning authorities. All historic buildings (and an increasing number of ones of dubious value) are listed-which gives English Heritage, a semi-independent government agency (what we call a “quango”) the power to decide exactly what may be done to them, indeed to order that things be done to them. Many of the listed buildings are effectively owned by nongovernmental organizations. For instance, English Heritage consults the Georgian Society before approving an alteration to a Georgian house. Nobody elected the Georgian Society to this position of power over the house owner.

    An analogous process has occurred in the natural environment. National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty were invented in the 1940s. In the 1980s they were joined by Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs). These were initially few and small but have recently grown to include vast areas, such as “the North Pennines.” Nearly 10% of the entire country is now in an SSSI.

    Then came AOHLVs (Areas of High Landscape Value), ESAs (Environmentally Sensitive Areas), and SCAs (Special Conservation Areas). The agencies that sponsor these various acronyms compete for land. Each acquisition feeds their ambitions to acquire larger and larger regulatory estates; for with size come budgets and power.

    In a process familiar to those who know the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the battle for control of the natural environment has elevated certain wildlife species because they provide useful excuses for demanding more restrictions on private owners. Really ”


    So even being a land ‘owner’, you need permission to pee against yer own tree! Well nearly.

    Having worked in the farming industry, for about ten years, on small to medium farms, (and one big one), I got to know an awful lot about the bureaucratic crap small farmers are faced with.

    I worked for a chap who inherited his 40 acre farm off his dad. He loved his cows. They made him little or no money. His entire life revolved around those animals. He milked twice a day, every day of the year, apart from when I relief milked for him. If a cow was sick the vet was called immeadiately. He, like many others I worked for, simply did not have the time for worrying about badgers. He had a badger set and quite liked to see them playing. I think the government are behind the TB in badgers scare. The more they publicise it, the more farmers will think about it….but the so called animal rights people who assume that any farmer is sterotypical and spends his/her days hunting out badgers, needs to ask themselves, are they just being played off against each other while more sinister things are happening unbeknown to both sides? I do not agree with badger baiting/culling…however I do not agree with bullying tactics, either by governments or animal rights.
    We as humans hold the future of this planet in our hands….sad isn’t it, we are the biggest destroyer of it. The only ones with brains large enough to have intellectual thoughts….yet we are bent on self destruction of our own species, and others.

    As for the Countryside Alliance, they are trying also, to appeal to ‘country folk’. Just what are ‘country folk’? Londoner’s with a house in the country for odd weekends away, farmers who have toiled more in one year than a lot of people do in one lifetime, people who work in the city but would not choose to live there, pensioners who moved upon retirement for some peace and quiet, then decided they did not like the noise of lambs bleating, cocks crowing, dogs barking, etc.,etc.,….dificult isn’t it, to think of two people who are ‘country folk’ yet have the same aspirations, thoughts and ideas. Perhaps they should be called the Hunt Alliance…or something that rhymes with hunt!

    Don’t assume I disagee with hunting. I used to have chickens!

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