Books: They make a wilderness and call it peace
Fraser Harrison curses the land lobby; The Killing of the Countryside by Graham Harvey, Cape, pounds 16.99
Saturday 22 March 1997
What makes Harvey's book valuable is the intensity of his feeling. He grieves the wanton extinction of our "national treasure" - the mixed-farm structure of the prewar years - and fervently resents the alliance of politicians, civil servants and landowners who have grown rich on its bones.
Harvey is an angry man, and his anger allows him persuasively to restate a case that has become wearisome in its familiarity. It seems scarcely credible that we have now been deprived of 97 per cent of our meadowland. And who can believe that after all the pleas on their behalf, hedgerows are still being lost or, rather, plundered at the rate of 10,000 miles per year? The populations of our so-called common songbirds are falling at a desperate rate. The tree sparrow's numbers have dropped by 89 per cent in the past 25 years, and the skylark's by 58 per cent. As we in Suffolk can testify, Harvey does not exaggerate when he speaks of "silent fields".
His chief concern is to show how the countryside is being killed by the subsidy system, which currently costs you and me pounds 10bn a year. Not only are we helping to enrich the already rich, we are paying twice - once with our taxes, and again by surrendering our countryside to poison or plough. And we pay again when we buy food that is nutritionally void and contaminated with the chemicals that fuel the agribusiness machine.
If I have a criticism of Harvey's splendid tirade, it is that he does not analyse in sufficient detail the formidable lobby that keeps the gravy pouring onto the plates of the landowning class. Land and political power turn out to be branches of the same indestructible plant.
Harvey points out that landowners, not country inhabitants, dictate the shape of the landscape. Whitehall and the agricultural industry work together to reshape the countryside, a symbiosis of public service and private capital that leaves the suckered public to pay the bill. He says that country people, a third of the population, "live on the periphery like temporary expatriates in some foreign land". Temporary? When, then, may we go home? Not in the foreseeable future. Landowners will not accept that, while the country may be their property, the landscape belongs to all of us.
Harvey is the agricultural story editor of The Archers - for many listeners an authentic echo of country life. It is therefore a shame the programme does not contain a representative of the villainies denounced here. Brian Aldridge and Simon Pemberton come close to fitting the bill, but we do not hear about the destructive consequences of their methods. Larks still sing in Ambridge but, if the countryside really is being killed, Ambridge too must suffer.
Graham Harvey is interviewed on page 16
Books And it is whizzpopping!
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Video of Irish 'professional boxer' fighting Istanbul neighbourhood goes viral in Turkey
- 2 Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
- 3 Toby Sheldon: Justin Bieber lookalike found dead in motel room
- 4 A pint of water every day is the key to losing weight, scientists say
- 5 Russia 'accidentally reveals' number of its soldiers killed in eastern Ukraine
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe the Stark may have a twin sister
Strictly Come Dancing contestants 2015: Helen George to join line-up
Friends fan comes up with horribly dark alternative ending to sitcom
Dismaland: The artists doing cooler things than Banksy at his 'bemusement park'
Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt’s The First Thing You See, to be published in UK
Dresden riots: Protesters in Germany attack refugee buses shouting 'foreigners out'
France train shooting: US soldiers speak of the moment they stopped gunman and 'beat him until he was unconscious'
Labour leadership: Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'deluding' young supporters with 'claptrap'
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith calls for urgent ESA overhaul as part of drive to cut down welfare costs