Terence Blacker: Britain's green and pleasant divided land

Share
Related Topics

Because politicians only occasionally take into consideration what is happening in the British countryside, rural policies and initiatives, when they do come, often have an other-worldly, Alice in Wonderland feel to them.

A few days, ago for example, a report was published revealing that a mind-boggling six per cent of England's managed hedgerows – 16,000 miles, that is – disappeared in the decade between 1998 and 2007. The survey, which cost the Department of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs £10m, was sketchily reported. Perhaps attempting to add a recognisably human element, journalists reported that the problem was that "thuggish weeds", notably nettles and brambles, had "tightened their grip" on the countryside.

There was another surprise. Apparently we now have a Wildlife Minister, Huw Irranca-Davies. Welcoming "a detailed snapshot of where we are right now", he added that we should all work together to improve our ponds and maintain our "iconic drystone walls".

This week the Wildlife Minster's boss Hilary Benn has provided another snapshot. The problem, it seems, is not that the country is too wild, with yobbish nettles and out-of-control blackberry bushes in dire need of an agricultural Asbo, but that it was not quite wild enough. His department has been looking at the possibility of re-introducing a whole range of high-profile species. Beavers and white-tailed eagles are already being returned to parts of the country where it is believed they were once to be found. Soon wildlife lovers might be able to see elk, wild cattle, lynx, pictured, wild boar, perhaps even bison roaming these islands.

Something rather peculiar is going on here – the development of a two-tier countryside. An essential part of what is known as "rewilding" the landscape is that habitats and reserves should be connected across the country so that the various exotic and exciting species have the space to roam. The result will be good for tourism and will make the David Attenborough experience available to ramblers everywhere.

On farmland, though, the emphasis is altogether different. The emphasis is on profit and food production. When hedgerows start disappearing, the blame is not put on the farmers, apparently too busy making money to tend the landscape, but on weeds. As it happens, nettle and bramble are far from thugs, being particularly useful to a wide variety of insects and birds.

This double-sided view of the landscape, with protected wild places on one side and sites of production on the other, should be set against a background of unprecedented pressure on the landscape from housing, airports and energy projects.

Politically speaking, one has to concede that the New Labour view of the countryside is neat. On the one hand, Hilary Benn can claim to be saving the wild spaces, "wonderful places where wildlife, bees, flowers and trees can flourish, and we can enjoy them as they do." Parts of Britain will be a grand leisure park, with elk, beaver, lynx and eagle roaming, scuttling or flying across a protected landscape. Then, across the divide, there will be the working countryside which above all exists to provide food, development and profit.

This vision might appeal to Whitehall. After all, it ticks the boxes marked "food production" and "leisure amenities" and "tourism". The elks and beavers might enjoy it, too. For those living in the countryside, and for the landscape itself, the rewilding of Britain may turn out to be rather more than a party conference gimmick.

A torrent of red-hot rage to make you smile

With the kind of breezy certainty which makes their profession peculiarly irritating, a TV executive in America has pronounced that, "in times of recession people respond to warm-hearted comedies."

Do they really? I suspect that what makes most of us feel better during these dog days of the downturn is not lukewarm humour but bracing red-hot rage. This week sees the publication of a book so hilariously angry that it makes the maunderings of TV's Grumpy Old Men seem like twittering of blue tits in a cherry tree. It will, I predict, be one of the surprise hits of the autumn.

For years, the gamy biographer Roger Lewis has sent to friends an antidote to boastful Christmas letters – a bilious, dyspeptic and ferociously chippy account of his own disaster-strewn year. They have now been collected, with footnotes and additions (Lewis does not grow more forgiving over time) as Seasonal Suicide Notes.

There is nothing quite as funny as a man of middle years shaking his fist at the fates, and falling flat on his face as he does so. Basil Fawlty was an archetype, as was the Peter Finch character in the film Network and Michael Douglas in Falling Down.

Lewis has several advantages over his fellow enragés. He is Welsh. He is apparently rather overweight. If he is to be believed, his career staggers from setback to humiliation and back again. His grudges are nursed lovingly. He is often hilariously rude about precisely the people who could do him some good.

Yet here is the odd thing. As he howls at yet another professional slight, or lashes out at a revered member of the arts community who has died – Harold Pinter, Pat Kavanagh, Ian Richardson all get the treatment – there is something strangely cheering and life-affirming about it all. For me, Lewis's comically demented rage is worth any number of warm-hearted comedies.

Let's consign them to history

Responding to a complaint by Andrew Davies that the BBC is downgrading historical dramas, a BBC spokesman has conceded that Dickens is indeed being "rested".

Trollope has turned out to be rather expensive, and there is a general feeling that the Austen franchise has been rather over-exploited since Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle starred in Pride and Prejudice. What excellent news this is. Davies may say plaintively that "people like bonnets", but for too long mainstream drama has been slipping into the comforting world of the past. It is time for writers and directors to find more of their inspiration from the strange, alarming times through which we are living.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Liz Kendall on the BBC  

Labour leadership: Being childless makes a person no less qualified for the job of being prime minister

Jane Merrick
 

I spent six years trying to recover from the bulimia I developed as a fifteen year old - with earlier intervention it all could have been avoided

Morwenna Jones
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy