DAVID HANDLEY FARMING COLUMN
WESTERN DAILY PRESS MAY 4
Now here’s a challenging question: who runs the countryside? Not the farmers – though they should be. Not the Government, certainly – even though it might think it is. No: increasingly it looks as though the countryside is being micro-managed by an unholy alliance of wildlife charities.
With, as it emerged this week, the undeclared but obvious tacit support of Natural England backing them up.
Increasingly rural areas – and that encompasses all farmland – are coming under the influence of a group of organisations whose leaders may have very impressive academic qualifications but whose collective experience of the realities of farming and rural life could be summarised on a postage stamp.
Not that this absence of hands-on knowledge and experience appears to offer any obstacle, particularly when it comes to mapping out future policies for food and farming in the UK. When all the talk is of rewilding, re-establishing hay meadows, allowing nature to take over and set the agenda.
All very commendable, I’m sure. But practicable on a relatively small offshore European island with limited supplies of farmable land? I’m not so sure. In fact I’m certain it is not the way we need to be going when I read a report from a panel of respected international scientists that unless we can increase food production by 50 per cent over the next 30 years the world is going to starve.
The problem is that no-one listens to common sense any more. The greatest reservoir of common sense in this country resides within the farming community, whose members have to draw on immense amounts of it all the time or they will simply go out of business.
That common sense used to be drip-fed into Ministers’ ears in the days when we had a proper Farming Minister part of whose brief was to undertake regular pilgrimages round the country to take soundings from grass roots farmers, the better to arrive at sensible policy decisions.
That process was halted under Labour and has never been revived. Now we have an NFU which only claims to be communicating with Government but clearly isn’t and, hence, a vacuum at the top which is being exploited by wildlife charities seeking to dupe Michael Gove into adopting their own countryside agendas.
The business of the ban on shooting corvids is a classic case: farmers are well aware of the problems they face from pest species and should be left to deal with it in the most expeditious manner possible.
Instead, a single legal challenge from a small pressure group has seen Gove leaping onto a chair like a maiden aunt who has just spotted a mouse in the pantry then attempting to appease everyone’s wrathby putting in place bureaucracy which will theoretically allow farmers to controlpests but make it much more difficult for them to do so and which – if it’s anything like Defra’s other systems – won’t work properly anyway, merely adding to the farmers already intolerable burden of frustration with Government departments.
How the anti-farmer Defra staff must be celebrating this week at yet another spanner in the works, another stick through the spokes, and another subtly-disguised little piece of sabotage successfully carried out.
And how the reputation of a ramshackle Government led by a bunch of third-rate no-hopers has plummeted still further in farmers’ eyes.