There is a significant problem which is intensifying in France and elsewhere on the European continent resulting from the migration of the rich to rural landscapes. In the French media there was considerable reporting from the Dordogne region, which has seen a very large transition of land ownership to those not previously connected with that landscape.
The result has seen massive and irreversible fragmentation of habitats and landscape creating problems for biodiversity and regional socio-economics respectively. All because the new landowners prefer privacy and thus fence off their new large plots of land. In a country like the UK many would wonder what the fuss is about and indeed the problem in France and elsewhere has been exasperated by the considerable amount of British expats purchasing homes and land in rural French communities, who simply do not understand and were never informed about the complexities of both landscape meaning and the biodiversity in the region they had moved to. The enclosure acts remain a strong component of the UK landscape both in the presence of the real boundaries built as a result of the acts as well as in the psyche of particularly the English. And unfortunately the fashion of following the bourgeois to emulate the ruling classes has transcended European boundaries with ease, resulting in many new proprietors of land to define their boundaries. The resulting fences have halted all large mammal movements which has had a significant effect on biodiversity, including humans – locals are now prevented from harvesting fruit and nut bearing trees, which provide a real contribution to their annual diet and they are now resigned to watch this harvest fall to the ground from behind a grill.
That is not to say there isn’t a problem in the UK; many fashionable regions have seen a migration of professionals searching for a more ‘self sufficient’ rural lifestyle and inadvertently destroying the very landscape they seek to be a part of. The fields of ragwort invested or the other extreme a ‘golfcourseesque’ landscape, unmanaged hedgerows and worse still poor animal husbandry (there are documented cases of prosecutions of ‘new’ landowners, who did not realise they were breaking any laws until they were arrested), which actually further divide rural communities as well as fragmenting habitats. The harsh truth is that even the smallest of small holdings requires considerable time input and the majority of incoming landowners do not realise this. The ratio of land to lifestyle in sustainable terms depends on the input given and the occasional meal provided by your land does not justify your ownership of a couple of hectares. In the continuing efforts to bolster property markets by slashing red tape and creating a system for which the only value ever considered is the property value the situation is set to get much worse. I have heard positive commentary that significant amounts of land are being removed from the agricultural administration systems and thus there is an assumption that this land is being turned into either a natural state or is being managed sustainably – in the majority of situations neither of which is the case and the land becomes stagnant for want of a better word either through too intensive management or non at all.
Should there be a more draconian system in place which will actually limit sale of land to those who can pass adequate tests to prove worthiness of being part or full custodians to a sustainable landscape? I don’t think so, as it is also evident that there exists a genuine desire to gain the knowledge needed, the problem is the lack of a suitable bridge in the transfer of this knowledge. Whilst books abound on all aspects of land management and its peripheral sciences aimed at the layman, there are few publications available which detail all the necessary guidance, which of course needs to be updated annually at the least. The UK is lucky is so far that both English Nature and the Forestry Commission provide free consultation of the highest calibre with publications available on line also. A simple information package available to new landowners from Defra would quickly solve the myriad of pits that would otherwise be easy to fall into, if nothing else listing the local branches of local organisations who exist to help. The internet age has seen a wealth of valuable information but a lot of it can be considered both dubious and unfit for purpose, as contributors can claim expertise on all matters without bothering to affiliate to any particular regional organisation and it is perhaps the fault of the new media in attempting to appeal to the widest possible audience that localised sustainable land management methods and advice have been lost completely, paradoxically at a time when the marriage of ideals from previously very separate strains of land management ideals become mainstream. Localism is the key here and in the Dordogne and all other favoured landscapes the answer lies with regional governance. In the Dordogne the blame is squarely placed at the feet of Mayors who have been found to be too obliging to accept wealthy new landowners and as such ignore simple but catastrophic land management operations which over time do considerable damage to the landscape which attracted these new landowners in the first place.
It is important to start listening to the old sage tut tutting whilst leaning on his spade in the vegetable garden next door and not be tempted to make enquiries to national media gurus about the feasibility of planting a crop of ginger on your new plot in the middle of Bodmin Moor. It is important to start to use the facilities made available by governmental agencies prior to using facilities offered by single issue NGOs. And most importantly it is important to discover your locality and understand all the aspects and sciences at play before any attempt to introduce land management regimes at a whim or as a result of a suggestion made on a favourite television programme.