The fact is that England is a human landscape, it’s rural landscape is a cultural one. The British have a wonderful obsession with the natural world, and this obsession has been catered for by a huge choice of literature, TV shows and magazines which portray the English countryside as a leisure playground shared with a fragile, threatened wildlife. It is now not the farmers and foresters who are the wealthy elite of our rural scapes, but environmental and nature conservation NGOs, who have gained considerably from this obsession allowing their hierarchies the greatest salaries in land management and, if including volunteers, the largest workforces by far.
In the past couple of months I have been stomping about the landscape of South Devon and the range of landscape features, which define this landscape, cannot fail to impress. At closer inspection it doesn’t take much time to see how much degradation there is leading to a slow decline of many of these features; dry stone hedgerows, hedgerows, waterways and non woodland trees are all suffering from a lack of management, which has arguably already changed the landscape.
It is immeasurably sad that landscapes are threatened not just by development or industry seeking resources but by an almost complete lack of those capable of building and maintaining our most valuable landscape features because there is no money.
There is still plenty of examples of attempts to protect these features and farmers should be applauded for their efforts when they face so many other pressures and have little time.
It is not a case of too little too late, it is not a case of not caring or a belligerence against a strong environmental lobby. It is not a case of a lack of ‘good practice’ guidance, (although it is evident that much of this guidance is written, post dissemination by those who don’t know land industry).
It is because those actually earning from land management in the most iconic rural landscapes of England, including South Devon, are such a small % in regional economics that they are marked as negligible in official statistics!
There is simply hardly anyone actively working the land anymore, despite enormous pressures to deliver more from their land for less money.
Instead we see war. The badger cull a classic example. There is clearly a need to investigate, based on science and with all interests involved towards a potential solution. But one cannot help think that a ‘war’ is much more advantageous to government, NGOs and even the farming lobby as it avoids having to consider the much bigger issues which could affect the landscape more like fracking and windfarms, which are increasingly attractive to an impoverished agricultural community.
Divide and conquer.
Inevitably I compare this with where I live in France and the situation couldn’t be more different. Agriculture remains the most dominant industrial sector and yet (contrary to all vitriolic commentary against ‘farmers’ as seen in the UK) landscape features remain, biodiversity is rich. There are problems, but they are fixed relatively easily despite the farmers being in the driving seat as they have such a strong presence.
The evidence that traditional landscape features are hugely beneficial to wildlife undermines the wealth of other benefits, but could allow a platform which sets a ‘soft power’ agenda where we can set values against which the landscape itself becomes the resource – not the land itself. Thus a flow of money which benefits all, rather than paying for polarisation.