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Crisis of a contracting countryside

With Christmas rapidly approaching, I thought I would depress Shooting Times readers by looking at what is happening to our countryside, which is disappearing under an essentially Conservative Government — a Conservative Government that has clearly lost the plot and doesn’t seem to understand what its own name means.

The more the countryside disappears, the more difficult it becomes to continue enjoying country sports — hunting, shooting and fishing. Each year, more complaints arrive on the desks of landowners, including the National Trust, about the dangers and cruelty of shooting. As more and more houses are spread over the countryside, and the more people believe that the countryside is there for the convenience of dog walkers and ramblers alone, then the situation will get worse and the complaints will become more frequent. Of course, the whole thing starts and finishes with our useless and unaccountable politicians — first, Tony Blair and now David Cameron.

Population boom

A nationwide census in 2001 put the UK population at 58.8million. The United Nations forecast that the population would remain stable and that by 2025 it would be 59.9million. Then free movement within the EU became possible, and Blair did nothing to stop it. The population of Britain is now more than 63million and rising. The Office for National Statistics claims there will be another 7.7million by 2030. What does this mean for the countryside? It means that the politicians want land; they want good, open countryside to cover with houses, roads, shopping centres, factories and so on. All these extra people mean that the country needs more fuel, energy, food and, above all, space — which we haven’t got.

In addition, of course, we are not self-sufficient in food, energy or fuel and so imports will rise. Our national debt — and our balance of trade deficit — will both increase. When our Prime Minister and Chancellor talk about “growth” they really mean the growth of our national debt. Even the very process of building makes the situation worse — at least a quarter of our building materials are imported at a staggering balance of payment deficit on building materials of more than £1.5billion a year.

Recently my sister built a small house — the bricks came from Belgium, the tiles from France and Spain, the timber from Canada and Scandinavia and the
floor covering from Germany. And who insisted that the imported bricks and tiles had to be used? The conservation officer of the council, who clearly failed to link conservation with the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the building process — for example, the energy used to get the imported materials into Britain and on to the site. I asked the council about the greenhouse gases emitted during the building of its “sustainable” houses — it didn’t have a clue. In other words, it doesn’t have the foggiest idea what “sustainable” means.

The Planning Minister Nick Boles claims that he wants 1,500 square miles of open countryside, including Green Belt land, for house building. This amounts to nearly 1million acres, twice the size of Greater London and is 4 per cent of England’s farmland. Yet land is our most precious commodity.

Who are the houses for? Mr Boles has said that 43 per cent are for immigrants and the 600,000 people who have fled London. Yes, London mayor Boris Johnson may be entertaining but London is going down the pan. England is already the sixth-most densely populated major country in the world at more than 1,050 people per square mile — much higher than the population density of China. This is madness. The leaders of our country are separated from nature and separated from reality. But, of course, now comes another problem. People are not allowed to talk about immigration — it is politically incorrect because to condemn immigration is “racist”. Yet it has nothing to do with race. I have all manner of origins and ethnicities in my extended family. Immigration is an environmental issue — not a racial one. More people mean more of everything that is harmful to the environment. As the Royal Society said in 2012: Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues”.

I have a much earlier quote of interest that dates back to the early 1800s: They hang the man and flog the woman, Who steals the goose from off the ommon, Yet let the greater villain loose, That steals the common from the goose. And that is happening today courtesy of the Government’s lax planning rules — the countryside is being stolen and it is irreplaceable.

Historically, a Europe with no borders, which has allowed uncontrolled immigration, is interesting. Of course, the EU calls immigrants “mobile citizens”. The growth of civilisation resulted in the development of static settlements — villages, towns, cities — that formed nation states that grew up through geography, history and economics. Now a Europe without nation states or borders has returned to a state of tribalism and nomadic, mechanised wandering. This means new settlements are being spawned that are totally divorced from history or geography; it is planning madness. Around me it is a case of the slums of tomorrow being built today, and all impacting on the traditional countryside and the activities that take place within it.

It gets worse, because what do the politicians want now? More food! With little cheap food available on the world market, they want British farmers to
intensify — to become more “efficient They want home-grown food, but what has the British farmer produced this year? With a long, cold, wet winter and spring, production probably dropped to 50 per cent of requirements. If Britain had to rely on home-produced food, it would have run out on 14 August.

With all this going on in rural England, what is going to happen to our wildlife and rural culture? Both are in danger of disappearing thanks to the short-term mindset of our politicians. With a growing population and more food wanted, would a Labour government allow farmers to grow covercrops for pheasants? Would it allow winter stubbles for wildlife and English partridges? These are serious questions. Given the intensifying attacks on shooting, and lazy journalists and those in cahoots with the RSPB all too willing to attack our sport, there are huge dangers looming.

As Shooting Times readers know, a shooting landscape is ideal for a wide variety of wildlife. The blunt truth is that urban politicians and a growing number of voters with no rural roots simply do not understand the countryside. Part of the drive to intensify will involve the use of genetically modified (GM) crops — short termism again. With GM there are huge dangers. We have had farming wonders before — remember DDT, dieldrin and Silent Spring? What impact will GM crops have on wildlife in a countryside devoid of broad-leaved weeds, insects and so on?

We started the Countryside Restoration Trust (CRT) 20 years ago because conservation bodies such as the RSPB were in a state of denial about the importance of the general countryside to wildlife. Earlier this year the RSPB and 24 other “conservation” bodies produced a document called The State of Nature 2013. They are clearly in a state of denial again. Look in the report for warnings about over-population and food security — you won’t find any. You won’t find any on the RSPB’s website either.

In the meantime, the CRT is challenging the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles and his sidekick Nick Boles to an open debate next spring on the environmental vandalism they are inflicting on the countryside. They will almost certainly refuse, as our political elite doesn’t like being held to account.

But there are two chinks that may give a bit of happiness to readers who only see gloom and doom. First, my book Messages from a Disappearing Countryside is available (priced £14.99, plus P&P). Second, the CRT has produced a DVD. It lasts an hour — fronted by me — and shows the real countryside (priced £15, plus £1 P&P). To order, contact the CRT, Haslingfield Road, Barton, Cambridgeshire CB23 7AG, or tel, 01223 262999.