Countryman Diary - August 2011
England’s Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs) are under siege from damaging and inappropriate developments at a time when Government policy risks further weakening the protection of the countryside.
So says the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which has published a map (overleaf) showing many of the threats to some of England’s most treasured landscapes and is fighting proposals that would blight valued landscapes.
Shaun Spiers, CPRE chief executive, says: “CPRE branches across the country are on the frontline of the battle to protect our countryside, but the range of threats they face is frightening. Left unchallenged these proposed developments will have a lasting and detrimental effect on these areas.
“If the planning system cannot safeguard AONBs – iconic landscapes such as Dedham Vale, the Forest of Bowland and the Cornwall coast – it should be strengthened. However, we are deeply concerned that far from strengthening the planning system, the Government is proposing to make ‘yes’ the default answer to development proposals.”
CPRE’s report on the threat facing AONBs comes at a time when the planning system is facing its biggest shake-up for over sixty years. As well as the Localism Bill, now being considered in the House of Lords, the Government was due to publish a National Planning Policy Framework by 19 July (after Countryman had gone to press).
CPRE believes that the Government is risking an environmental disaster – and many battles with local communities – by putting the economic aims of the planning system ahead of its social and environmental purposes. This is despite the fact that the Government has recently published a White Paper on the natural environment that sets out a vision for protecting and restoring the countryside on a large scale.
Shaun Spiers concludes: “The ‘growth at any cost’ stance promoted by some within the Government places our countryside in enormous danger. It risks undermining Ministers’ own stated ambition in the Natural Environment White Paper to protect our natural assets much better. AONBs and National Parks are meant to have the highest protection in planning policy but our examples of threats to AONBs show that, in practice, this isn’t always the case.
The Government should be giving very clear guidance to local authorities to protect landscapes in AONBs. Heaven help the rest of the countryside if the protection it currently has is further weakened in the National Planning Policy Framework.”
Clampdown on ragwort calls
In publishing you quickly learn there’s more than one side to every story. Take the case of ragwort for example. In the past I’ve reported how dangerous the ‘weed’ can be, especially where farmstock and horses are concerned. I place the word ‘weed’ in inverted commas as this is how it is described by some of those wanting to see its eradication.
But common ragwort is, of course, a British wildflower of significant importance to many insects and invertebrates. And its removal could disrupt the balance of nature.
This is the view of Buglife – the invertebrate conservation trust set up in the 1990s. Matt Shardlow, Buglife’s chief executive says: “At least thirty insect species are entirely reliant on ragwort and about a third of them are scarce or rare. Ragwort is also a critically important nectar and pollen source for hundreds of species of butterflies, bees, moths, beetles and flies, helping to maintain what remains of our much declined wildlife. While it can be harmful to horses in large amounts the main threat is dried ragwort illegally sold in hay and this is where we should focus efforts, not on spraying the countryside with more pesticides, or ripping plants out of roadside verges.”
Such has been the outcry against ragwort in recent years from certain vociferous parties – many of them, it should be said, being companies who sell ragwort controlling liquids and removal tools – that the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has stepped in to say, ‘hold on a minute, you’re misleading the public here'.
The British Horse Society and Warwickshire Council have also been caught out by the ASA after promoting a misleading leaflet on ragwort on the Council’s website that stated “It is an offence to allow ragwort to spread from your land”.
And one company selling a ragwort removal tool, claimed that “It is responsible for the deaths of up to 6,500 horses and ponies in the UK each year.” In the end they conceded there was no evidence for this and removed the statement from their website.
Of course no one wants to see any horses or cattle suffering from severe liver damage caused by the plant and horse owners and farmers need to be vigilant in making sure their grazing land is ragwort free.
Plus ça change…
This month I received a letter from a recently retired farmer who had been reading The Countryman for fifty years. He stated that he was glad he wasn’t starting out nowadays because “farming has got too complicated with all its rules, regulations and red tape”.
I was prompted to look at a 1961 copy of The Countryman to see how the countryside was viewed back then by the magazine, and was amused by the following which seems to contradict what my correspondent claims:
“Egg prices are fixed like this: take the selling price for the previous year, double it, add the realised price for the year before that and divide the total by three. For the past year the answer was 2s 11.8d. Subtract that from the review price of 3s 11.15d and the answer is a subsidy of about 11.25d a dozen which includes an allowance of about 5d for the cost of marketing. Any excess in the average selling price goes 25 per cent to the Government, 30 per cent to the reserve and 45 per cent to the producers. Losses are shared as to 40 per cent by producers and 60 per cent by the Government.”
All that and Tesco doesn’t even get a mention!
In looking forward to this summer’s village shows I’m reminded of an old tale I heard:
Bert: “Hey Jack, I’ll give you a bob for that marrow what won you t’ first prize in t’ veg show.”
Jack: “Nay, that’s not enough Bert. I paid half a crown for it myself.”
Mr Stewart Preston, London NW2.
Mr and Mrs D Fell, Axminster.
Mrs J Walker, Sixpenny Handley, Salisbury.
Thank you to everyone who entered.