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
TV reviewGrace Dent: Jimmy McGovern's new drama sheds light on sex slavery in the colonies
Eurovision 2015Australian Idol winner unveiled as representative Down Under
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 2 Tourist films plane's descent just metres above packed Caribbean beach
- 3 World Book Day: Boy 'excluded' from school after dressing up as Fifty Shades' Christian Grey
- 4 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
- 5 GamerGate: developer Tim Schafer provokes rage with joke about online gaming activists at industry awards
Fifty Shades of Grey banned by Indian censors despite sex scenes being edited out
The 9 rules every Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner cartoon had to follow are wonderfully pedantic
Toy Story 4: Pixar promises a romcom storyline 'separate' from the much-loved trilogy
India's Daughter: BBC Four documentary provokes outrage on Twitter
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ex-head of MI6: 'We shouldn't kid ourselves that Russia is on a path to democracy'
Most people think legal tax avoidance is just as wrong as illegal tax evasion, poll suggests
Nigel Farage promises Ukip will not 'stigmatise' would-be migrants – and says he wants 'everyone to speak the same language'