VEGA News Item

Natural Environment and Rural Communities - 14/03/2005
We grapple with the government's draft bill on these topics, now up for comments from interested parties. Vega objects to any favoured position for the Meat and Livestock Commission and Milk Development Council: the highly-subsidized farming they represent has done unforgivable harm to farm animal welfare and the environment, as well as to standards of food-production.
We object to inclusion of the Meat and Livestock Commission and the National Dairy Council to the eminence of appropriate levying bodies. They have a recent history of well-investigated and costly errors and harm to British agriculture and the environment. Well-wishers to the Bill will be vexed if these bodies are given authority after such a catalogue of blunders. The report of the BSE Inquiry, which was very costly and the epidemic and its corollaries are still occupying SEAC and other bodies in expensive investigations/indemnified the evils of the dairy/beef/veal industry, which has survived only because enormous subsidies have been lavished on it. The foot-and-mouth epidemic and its aftermath illustrate further incompetence and rule out the MLC and NDC as suitable members of any levying organisations entrusted to handle or control public moneys with importance in the Bill’s purposes.

2. Emotional and sentimental pictures of country life must not fudge issues of the euphemised forces our species, usurping territories and freedoms of feral and wildlife, as well as plants and animals that we have introduced and let loose into unequal circumstances, has unleashed on the environment. Contemplation of Constable’s paintings might conjure up misgivings in modern children taught biology in school: what about liver fluke and cryptosporidia when livestock paddle in rustic streams? Aren’t the goings-on in the archaic livestock markets a sign of quaintness we could do without? Do incomers into the rural scene with their second homes and “organic” pretensions take kindly to construction next door of one of those friendly “humane” slaughterhouses and the attendant hurly-burley and traffic adjacent to their property? Are they the jobs of soil and toil that they or their offspring would like to undertake? And don’t we all thank machine harvesting for the brussel sprouts in the bleak mid-winter when the attendant noise is a minor inconvenience compared to bending over and picking naturally frozen vegetable straight from the plant? We have to balance the satisfaction of overcoming seasonality and the effects of the peregrinations of our forebears into areas of unfavourable latitude and altitude with recourse to the advantages of farming under plastic or in concentrations of livestock confined in evil buildings of intensified food production and exploitation, which are carbuncles on the landscape in anyone’s language? Exporting such problems to far-away and antipodean places with the corollaries in squandered resources in transport, water abstraction, and increases in fuel usage and pollution, are unworthy devices to brook unless the challenges of fair-trading are rigorously addressed.

3. The environment and rural communities can be benefited only by combinations of self-restriction and government and local authorities, aided by objective education, debate, and action. Signs are that the Church is recognising the challenges. The contrast between the all-things-bright-and-beautiful scenery of the 23rd Psalm and the plight of ewes lambing in the inclement blizzards and threats from similarly pregnant and hungry vixens in the aptly-named less-favoured areas must surely grab at last the congregations rising in full orotund voice to accompany Crimond with their-regrettably-appallingly insincere roundelays and orisons. Adherents to most of the religions and seats represented in the UK acknowledge in one form or another “ the good man’s care for his beast” and the sanctity of agricultural and forestry practice. Our countryside at the moment is blighted by many signs of production diseases, which changes in the CAP are at last offering opportunities to seize for kinder systems of husbandry. The intensified rapine on cows suffering under regimes blemishing rural scenes with monotonous platforms of heavily-fertilized rye-grass and inflicting on the miserable animals a deplorable toll of notorious production diseases of mastitis, lameness and reproductive disorders, as well as the overhanging threats of BSE must be ousted. Kinder, less cruel, less polluting low-input systems, New Zealand style, must replace some of the evils.

4. We therefore repeat our plea for removal of the MLC and NDC from any special eminence in furtherance of the Bill. There are plenty of other agencies with a much less blemished record of endeavour within the Bill’s purview. The Farm Animal Welfare Council and many worthy interests in wildlife in its widest sense should be more effectively represented. The dairy/beef/veal business is an example of intensive farming associated with badgers and the spread of zoonotic diseases such as tuberculosis. Its activities and other farming enterprises are associated with transmissions of tick-borne, bacterial, viral, and protozoan infections, some-like BSE-of slow and insidious development, such as Johne’s disease. Control of wildlife and the prospect of selective culling-or leaving wild and feral animals to nature red in tooth and claw teeming with threats from pathogenic micro-organisms and lingering deaths-are issues that call for representation on the Bill from organisations such as the RSPCA well-founded on the ethical and difficult decisions.

5. The Bill represents an anthropocentric view of a densely-populated island of various species, some “natural”, some introduced by human intervention and lack of care, and some brought in by travel or by changes of weather or climate. All are struggling for competition of territory and survival, from microorganisms through all the animal species, including our own. It is difficult to determine what species is “natural” or has become “naturalised”. Some cut-off period might be defined: it could well antedate the upheavals of farming and domestication that succeeded the recessions of the Ice Ages and continued through the Agricultural Industrial Revolutions. In evolutionary terms much o our environment is an artefact of deforestation and of intensifying pressure on our over worked land and other resources. If ever a nation needs lebensraum and redistribution and reduction of populations it is Britain. Intensified farming has arisen to serve the greed of human consumers, exploiting enormous populations of farmed animals allowed scant contentment from the Five Freedoms of farm animal welfare. The intensified conditions offer opportunities of pathogenic scourges afflicting all species in zoonotic disasters. The flu epidemics offer just one example. The emergency massacres to cull out populations of non-human potential victims and the consequent pyres disgrace our land and diminish our status as custodians neglecting precautionary principles we have the wit to manifest.

6. The Bill does not cope with farming changes in the set-aside spirit of CAP reforms and the promptings of dietary changes advocated by the Food Standards Agency and Department of Health that bid fair to relieve the pressures of intensification on the curious medley and over-population of artificially-bred farm animals paying the cost of cheap food policies attended by the corollaries of epidemics of disease and all the indicators of bad husbandry. While the breeding artifices can be easily reduced, the Bill must make provision for farmers who opt out of these depredations and for the animals released to live out their days in appropriate sanctuaries. Britain’s livestock is no more “natural” than the names of breeds and crosses (and mere numbers) that they bear; as with other introduced species we have a responsibility to restore these animals to a dignity and respect, consistent at least with the Five Freedoms, in which they continue an unmolested existence. Some precedents can be found in populations in National Parks and in countries with appropriate facilities and space.

7. History and rural life must feature in education and public service broadcasting, and specially in citizenship syllabuses to awaken interest and participation in a population predominantly urban to whom concepts of the environment centre on what is becoming influenced by a category recognized increasingly as a buildings environment. Movement of populations introduce citizens whose concepts of agriculture have been stapled to rice and millet and monsoons rather than to the enclosures, Corn Laws, and clearances of olde England. The changing-quite rapidly, actually- population of “traditional” Brits has not been much illuminated on the indigenous countryside and cultures in areas easily accessible by the amenities of cheap flights and hotels. Demographic changes and movements of out-goers, generally being ex-pats having moved in a southerly direction in answer to evolutionary promptings of their genes, and a younger influx of a heterogeneous population with backgrounds of continents different from the customs of an essentially island race, may be nationally advantageous economically but will need understanding and mingling of sympathetic cultures.

8. Some of this new population may harbor malign-and unfortunately justified-associations with the land of their colonial masters. If we look at our environment with a clear insight we too must confess reservations over the prosperity and amenity of cities such as Bristol and Nottingham largely derived from the profits of slave-trading and the tobacco-industry, which surely offend more than recent (in evolutionary terms) introductions of alien crops such as potatoes, oilseed rape, sunflowers, maize, triticale and GM-sesame. At least, the innovations do not anticipate cultivations of tobacco in our green and pleasant land. We must look forward to the appreciation of the common good we can derive and exercise from many cultures. Threats to remove citizenship studies from school curricula must be overcome: in the spirit of CAP reform rampant production must-and can-be countered by enjoyment of a society kind to all animals and the environment and in harmony with global endeavours at anticipating and accommodating climate changes and pollution.

9. How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down on the Farm, after they’ve seen Paree is a message as relevant today as it was when the song was written in recognition of the drift of populations from land to towns. Failing farming traditions of inheritance and the lamentable extravagances of investment and the entertainment industry are trends that imperil the dignity and integrity of rural living. Mechanization and labour-saving devices still fail to relieve farming and custody of the countryside of hard, backbreaking work, sometimes in inclement conditions. However, there can be appreciation of pleasant rustic scenes of great value and serenity; correspondingly, the factors behind crime and vandalism in the rural areas, many due to absentee-landlordism and severe contrasts of wealth and possession must be overcome. The activities of gangmasters and illegal immigrants, as well as of other populations at a loose end, blemish our repute, as the fate of the Chinese cockle gatherers in Morecombe Bay bears out. The government’s current Bill on littering should offer opportunities for restoring the upkeep, safety, and amenity in rural life. Changes in the CAP should prompt much improved care in farming areas where the pressures of overpopulation and overstocking have overcome attention to stockmanship, and hedges, walls and shelter.

10. In the national environment rural, urban, and suburban areas must exist in a balance. Contrived town v country strife, as has flared up the arguments over hunting and some other forms of vandalism (which would extend to littering), must be averted. Second homes and holiday homes must be penalized to allow a rural population to establish communities with homes and amenities at reasonable prices. Likewise, accommodation at modest levels, for family holidays and breaks, must be provided-rather on the upgraded youth hostel style/ in designated and pleasant areas; local populations could find employment in such services, which would be raised to heir proper status. Service industries generally should be elevated in recognition of their jobs. Neither town nor country can be proud of tourist facilities and accommodation in towns and cities staffed by foreigners and incomers with little grasp of the language and local custom, and poorly-paid to boot. Changes of policies and restitutions (such as those after the last foot-and-moth epidemic) teach that tourism and leisure are competing powerfully with farming and horticulture as sources of income in the rural economy.

11. There must be no entrenched resistance now to change in the countryside. It has been undergoing change over the centuries of rural and agricultural development, as well as decadence. Windmills have featured in Britain for many years, but can be carefully replaced with modern designs as a source of local power. These developments, augmented by solar panels, can be a source by which farms can generate and sell power, not only for drying cereal crops but also for farming equipment and local dwellings. In coastal areas harbours and marinas should be able to furnish enough reliable and renewable energy to supply nearly all their needs.

12. Transmission of power in the form of electricity or transport of fuel suffers heavy losses. Pylons “ striding across the land” are unsightly, and inducements should be made to bury as much as possible of the national grid underground. Coastal areas should be provided with tidal power. Damming on a large scale seems to bring environmental problems, at least for some years, due to earth movements, but local watermills could be used to generate electricity and to reduce load on the national grid.

13. Tunnelling of roads and railways must be developed to ease travelling congestion and to avoid ever more concreting over the land and the consequent increase of platforms from which surface water spills off and causes flooding. Cut-and-cover building of tunnels seems practicable for many purposes.

14. The established trend relegating farming economies in favour of tourism was recognised in the outcome and compensations paid for as a result of foot-and-mouth disease. DEFRA’s interpretation of the CAP’s modulation continues the trend, welcome if it improves services, facilities, and employment in rural areas, with corresponding lines of communication, transport, the cost of land and homes, and a prevention of low-paid labour commuting from slums in the towns.

15. Post Offices should be retained. Restrictions on their commercial activities remain, but should be lifted: post offices should be able to offer simple banking services and their status, as commercial centres should be raised accordingly. Crime in the countryside has been rising and many isolated premises and even whole villages could be vandalized or burgled. There is much very valuable equipment (and animals) on farms. Local police accommodation attached to the Post Office would be welcome. We recommend exploration of such ideas and challenges with relevant authorities.

16. Transport and its failure to meet requirements, except perhaps in specialised services, such as school runs, should be dealt with by recourse to taxi, post-bus, and ambulance enterprises run by locally-licensed contractors on call. Mobile phones have made such possibilities more promising. Householders without a car should be able to use a Freedom Pass for such local services, or at least discounted rates on the public transport.

17. Revival of the “dead centres” of towns and ease of access from their hinterlands requires acknowledgement in shopping habits, changes of use in high street premises, and dereliction of many shops/ with accommodation on higher storeys. The areas could be turned from commercial importance to more use for accommodation, the lower being converted into parking space, leaving the roads less congested. Country towns date from years long gone and are not spacious enough for lively parks and plazas (or piazzas), decorated with pleasant gardens, shelter, catering, and shops. These shortcomings should be sympathetically overcome, even at some disturbances to the Shambles and Stink Street.

18. Local pubs may be selling local tipples from local breweries, but they are no longer coaching inns and are likely to be selling local produce with up-rated influences from the Chinese, Thai and Indian cuisines, with eatering and accommodation suitable for families, traditional pastimes, and quite areas.

19. The church may increasingly serve for multi-denominational worship / or other-nondenominational communion-as they act in defence of all the faiths-or none-if they can achieve a true harmony in agreeing to disagree on some matters. The village (church) hall serves a valuable purpose and must be a hospitable venue for local events and enterprises not quenched by the numbering excesses of TV and radio. Advice on the DEFRA Bill should come from organisations putting on local events, classes including those within rural communities.

20. Farming in its new mode must enjoy benefits to encourage small-scale, specialized enterprises with good agronomic prospects and attention to local trade. Horticulture, market gardening, and orchards are enterprises deserving more attention, as well as extension of farming b and b projects.

21. Wilderness is natural habitat for wildlife, and areas must be set aside for space much less managed than the national parks and open to only the most intrepid humans, and then only for purposes of observation or benefit and not for any form of harassment.

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