the future of our countryside

I’m writing another post on this subject spurred on by your comments. Perhaps too I did not make it clear where I was coming from. I’m waiting on the CPRE to find out if they can put Robert Elms’ article on line: if they can there’ll be a link.

The perception of the countryside, and the values we attach to it, vary as much as we do. Even if we’re broadly in agreement, the detail leads to plenty of healthy discussion! None of us holds quite the same views about the Enclosures, wind farms, badgers, hunting, subsidies, green belts, organic farming, gmos…

Just a tiny scrap of the British Isles is left untouched by human hand. We haven’t scarcely an iota of true wilderness left. Ours is a cultural landscape, a record of our history and social evolution. A palimpsest – love that word. And it will continue to change. In the next few decades I believe it will undergo as rapid a transformation as anytime before, apart from perhaps the clearance of the wildwood, through the demands of population growth, climate change, food security and energy generation, but that’s no excuse for not sharing our views on what the future of our landscape should be, so that collectively we can exert some shaping influence.

I’m not a naturally untidy or lazy farmer. Far from it, I’m cursed by obsessive industry. It’s all too easy for me to look at a beautiful farm and see only work to be done. I have farmed various types of land for over three decades and my ideals, passions and expectations have changed dramatically over the years. But I’ve never held sway with intensive agriculture and have always tried to the best of my ability to farm in harmony with the land. When farmer met environmentalist (Robert- husband) there was a meeting of minds on some aspects, but headlong clashes over others. I began to look at certain practices with different eyes, just as Robert began to better understand the needs of a farmer, his stock and crops. Fortunately for us, Locks Park could never be intensively farmed (come Armageddon I will have the greatest of difficulty to even grow a handful of cereal to feed the family) so compromise has not been too difficult.

Reading Robert Elms’ article I was struck not by his dismissal of the countryside (I couldn’t care a toss if he doesn’t want to live in it) but more by his observation of the boring sameness of it all. You see I agree. To me a lot of our countryside has become over manicured, bland and uninteresting. With mono-culture, horsiculture and diesel and unimaginative planning laws we are losing character and individuality.

Affluence is part of the problem. We no longer have to mend and make do. We have the cash to throw on the fertilisers, on all-powerful machines, on high tensile wire and smart new gates. You can tell so much about a place by looking at a single old wooden gate, repaired and patched over many years, lichen-smattered, so little from a brand new one.

Then there’s the legacy the Victorians left us, that cleanliness (neatness) is next to godliness. The inordinate desire the stamp our mark on every last square foot, to create order out of Nature’s chaos. Have you any idea how difficult it is to cut a field in wavy lines, so deeply ingrained is the need for everything to be straight and true? Many say that the sign of a good farmer is how neat his land is, but in my view we have to learn to think differently.

And that goes for environmentalists as well as farmers. How many times have I seen the soul of a beautiful place tamed and dulled by the well-meaning but misplaced views of some conservation organisation or another? The sort who believe that tacking an inconspicuous line of fencing wire to an oak tree or two is a sin, requiring instead a line of standard-spec yellow-green fencing to cut across the landscape like a slash across a Constable.

Am I the only one willing to speak up for the rusty tin roof, the abandoned harrow in the hedge, even the ruts in the lane?