The sublime tranquility of the English countryside in its range of differing landscapes has been the inspiration of many poets and artists. The unique pastoral scenery reproduced by Gainsborough and Constable has been emulated in the ‘English Landscape Park’ by designers such as William Kent and Charles Bridgeman leading to the works of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. English landscapes in all their rural forms have been the envy of the world.
As a schoolboy in Hampshire I developed an early passion for rural pursuits. Changes to the countryside since those days have been profound. Increasing population by townspeople moving out into the countryside and the development of housing estates has spoiled many of my rustic memories. Small farms have diminished, the farmhouses having been bought out and the lands sold to make large amalgamated commercial farming enterprises. This has led to the removal of hedgerows to increase field sizes and to much larger agricultural machinery.
By Britain joining the EU Common Market, farming became subject to the requirements of the Common Agricultural Policy, initially causing much havoc. Over production elsewhere in Europe meant restrictive practices were imposed on the farmers. ‘Set-aside’ fallow land was intended to both rest the ground and encourage wildlife. Many fields and headlands became an eyesore as farmers were being subsidised to leave them alone. At the same time coniferous plantations were increasing in areas and all of this did nothing in fact to improve the wildlife situation.
Our indigenous wildlife suffered dramatically over the last 40 years and the fauna and flora of my youth has noticeably changed. Popular birds then are now endangered and much of this can be put down to current farming practices. Farm animals that were to be seen everywhere have become ‘housed’ in buildings under intensive rearing methods. Cattle are now being milked and fed under cover without ever moving out into the fields
Of course every sensible incentive should be provided to retain our valuable farming community. It is in my opinion, extremely important that we as a nation do not become entirely reliant on imported foodstuffs. This particularly applies to staple food requirements. However, It is important to remember that working farms are what sustain the attractive countryside. This may be becoming somewhat endangered by the drive for bigger profits.
In my opinion, we should be doing everything possible in our future policies to retain the farming fraternity. We must avoid unnecessary stresses to the farmer while providing incentives to improve harmony with wildlife. Farmers fully support the ideals of sustainability but it should be remembered that farming is hard work without a great deal of profit and we need their cooperation. They are encouraged to seek diversification and most farmers today have at least another one additional enterprise to support their income.
Conventional farming methods have changed since my youth, practices that had little changed over many centuries. Horses are now limited to special heritage events. The tractors and farm machinery have increased unimaginably in size. They compress the soil to such an extent that the propagation of crops has now changed. The old intensive labouring requirements of yesteryear have been replaced by machinery and have forced the workers off the land and out of the villages now the homes of yuppies.
Safeguarding the Countryside
With the current dynamic increases in the population, there is an undeniable demand for more housing along with transport links and a wide range of infrastructure. These unavoidable developments are clearly a threat to out traditional landscapes. Those who understandably, wish to open up the countryside for recreation may further exacerbate this.
The rapid decline in many of our popular wildlife species has led the National Trust to challenge all those who care for the future of the countryside. Britain’s exit from the EU will create changes to the current Common Agricultural Policy. Farmers are concerned about their economy. The Trust is concerned for the environmental aspects and argues for a return to nature. Compensation for non-production is not, in my opinion, the right direction to take and a compromise must be found.
An interesting and relevant comment was recently made to the Guardian, in response to an article by Rowan Moore, the journalist and architectural critic:
“While making some pragmatic concessions to the arguments for the preservation of our countryside, Rowan Moore interprets a love of the countryside as a sentimental indulgence reflecting a mindset positioned somewhere between Thomas Hardy and The Archers. Most thinking people would recognise that it represents instead a relationship integral to our culture and a source of inspiration for some of our most enduring art, music and literature. Lazily applying the abusive term ‘nimby’ to those objecting to insensitive local development ignores the fact that people are inevitably and rightly motivated to defend what they know and love. To suggest that such ‘nimbys’ would be satisfied with a compensatory cheque is simply stupid.
More stupid still is the suggestion that we do not need agriculture and could comfortably subsist on imports. Heaven preserve us if the fate of the countryside is to be decided by such crass and soulless materialism”.
Helen Boyles, Brixham Devon, September 2011.
Farmers have been experiencing many problems from the apparent increasing numbers of dog walkers who do not heed the countryside code. They are now being faced by the promotion of cycling into the wider countryside. Rural groups have raised concerns over calls from British Cycling to open up more access across rural Britain that could bring even more problems to those who live and work in the countryside. Ann Scott, of Intrusive Footpaths, which supports farmers and landowners in right of way disputes has said its members already have had major issues with dog attacks on livestock and dog fouling, without the added pressure of cyclists riding across their land. She says, “The whole system needs a proper overhaul. The countryside will soon be a giant leisure park and the working countryside obsolete. Everyone seems to want to live and earn big bucks in the city, eat too much, then use the country for their leisure and ‘get fit”. July 2016.