Thursday, November 02, 2006

Gale's View - Rural England Faces Meltdown

Be concerned. Be very concerned. Rural England faces meltdown.

We do not think much of our farmers, do we? Even here, in the Garden of England, surrounded by fields of potatoes and cauliflowers, orchards full of apples, top fruit and soft fruit and the occasional lamb or cow the fact is that most of us live on the coastal strip or in urban clusters. We work in offices and shops and schools and hospitals and there are more "Chelsea Tractors" in towns than there are of the real thing off the road and on the land.

Very few of us, these days, are left to "plough the fields and scatter" so they aren't worth a lot of votes and they get scant attention from the majority and, therefore, from politicians.

We do, though, care about animal welfare and thousands of us go fishing and walking and cycling and we expect our green and pleasant land to be there for us, with streams stocked with trout and sparkling in the sun, a landscape stuffed full of quaint cottages and tea rooms serving scones and cream, dry stone walls and neat hedgerows and fluffy things bouncing around in the sunshine.

Forget it! Unless there is a dramatic re-think and a Treasury U-turn all that could be a thing of the past.

The Department of Food & Rural affairs (DEFRA) has had its budget cut by a massive two hundred million pounds. Cynics say that this is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, putting a warning shot across DEFRA`s David Miliband to remind the boy-Minister not to stand against him in the tussle for the keys to 10 Downing Street. Others say that DEFRA is simply profligate and needs its sails trimmed.

Either way, we lose. The Agencies responsible for flood defences and for maintaining our rivers and our pathways and our landscapes are now suddenly deprived of cash. And there will be significant cuts in the State Veterinary Service.

The SVS needs to expand, not shrink. Avian Flu remains a very real threat, particularly if the EU ends its ban on the sale of wild-caught birds as some mad Brussels bureaucrats would wish. Foot & Mouth Disease is not a distant memory. Equine Flu and other horse-diseases are all too easily imported. Bovine Tuberculosis is the most serious current threat facing livestock. And there is the small matter of the transport of live animals and the welfare of those beasts in addition to the policing of the pet passport scheme and other necessary regulatory controls over live and dead meat.

The chaos that is the Single Farm Payment scheme has already led farmers to bankruptcy and even suicide as late payments cause cash flow problems. Those caring for livestock do not have the money to pay for veterinary call-out fees and medicines to treat animals that, at market value, may be worth less than the cost of that treatment.

While the former head of the Rural Payments Agency (Blair's instrument for "managing" the payments) continues to draw his salary on "gardening leave" the new Minister responsible, Lord Rooker, tells Members of Parliament that there is no quick fix, that he will not make promises about when our farmers will get their money and that it "is all the fault of the computer"!. Which means that we can expect that more farmers will go to the wall.

As we gather for harvest festivals we need to remember that all is not safely gathered in. Unless we, in the towns, are prepared to take a stand for rural England the produce laid at the foot of the altar will, before long, all be imported and our Cattle and our Sheep and our Pigs and our poultry will be suffering from disease in a manner that most can only begin to imagine.

Urban Britain needs to wake up and start shouting before it is too late.


unmoderated said...

I was going to comment on this but as I don't agree with Gale's view and comment overmoderation is in full force whats the point in typing my response?

Dane Valley Ted said...


Surely you are mature enough to moderate your own comments.
If a comment is reasonably put or amusing in content then there would be no need for the good doctor to remove it.

By all means have your say,but think before pressing publish.
Because one day you might have something worthwhile to say and no-one will listen.

B of Birchington said...

I would love to help in some way. I personally treasure our farmers and think they get a rotten deal with this government. As I am more or less housebound now, recently being taken accross to Dover and up the line to Gillingham I really appreciated our green and pleasant county and to think of its ruin and the loss and suffering of animals is heart breaking.
Mr Gale has me on board.

Biscuit Barrell said...

There is too much farmland and too many farmers stuck in a rut wanting to retire. Let people spread out instead of being cramped into overcrowded settlements. Get rid of the Town & Country Planning Act 1948 (it will be scrapped eventually), CPA 48 was a tool originally set in place by upper middle class professionals with the backing of the aristocracy to keep the great unwashed in the towns to which they were confined by the Enclosures Act and the Industrial Revolution. Let people buy up a hectare build a house and care for the orchards and fields they buy, grow their own crops and allow diversity to spread. The alternative? Bland factory farming which is inefficiently run under the CAP scheme. Less than 10% of the UK is urbanized and to believe the tabloid press headlines of the south being concreted over is on par with a headline out of the National Enquirer.

James Maskell said...

Miliband wont stand against Brown. Whoever does can expect a battering in the Labour elections. Miliband will wait to stand as successor to Brown when he has more experience.