Column: by Peter Fairs

ONE of the benefits of Covid-19 has been the increased awareness of our countryside and its amazing wildlife.

For those of us who have been lucky enough to live and work in it throughout our lives, there is a tendency to take it for granted but for many this has been an exhilarating period.

That same countryside produces our home-grown food and with self-sufficiency levels dropping alarmingly in the past few decades a balance must be maintained.

In the quest for us to see more wildlife are our decision-makers attaching any importance at all to food production?

Take planning policy. Our growing population needs houses, roads, hospitals, schools and recreation areas.

They all take agricultural land with little or no regard for the loss of food production.

Agricultural land is classified on a rating of one to five for its potential to produce good quality high yields.

One of the very few areas in Essex with land classified as grade one has just been designated for a massive development east of Colchester.

Calling it a “garden town” conveniently ignores the fact that official planning policy “protects the best and most versatile land”, ie grade one.

Fine words indeed, but conveniently ignored.

Huge areas are now being covered in concrete with rapid run-off of rainwater.

This water rushes onto what was flood plain but some of that has been built on as well so we have flooding problems. The experts have been called in and are advising that to avoid these problems there is a lot of agricultural land that doesn’t matter much so let’s hold the water back there.

A few thousand hectares which can no longer grow crops won’t matter because we can just import a bit more.

Then we have the wildlife experts who by popular demand want to return farmland to wildlife habitat and bring back all the animals we have lost while we were trying to grow food.

There is great celebration over the reintroduction of beavers which apparently are helping to block the rivers and flood all that spare land where we used to grow food.

Wolves have come back in Belgium and could be here soon.

There is talk of re-introducing lynx and other primary predators.

This week there was a picture of a bison in the national news.

We are told that they should definitely be reintroduced because they “can remove trees and create wide and sunny clearings helping native plants to survive”.

Forgive me, I thought we were trying to plant trees, not remove them.

However desirable all these demands for land may be they are combining to make home grown food an even scarcer commodity.

Present indications are that we will be happy to import food rather than grow it here.

That is fine while the rest of the world has sufficient stocks.

More importantly, we will then have to accept that other countries standards may not match our own wishes for animal welfare, GM breeding and pesticides.

Farmers here are already finding that the constant reduction in approved crop medicines is causing yield losses.

If we don’t care what we buy from other people I expect we’ll all find enough to eat whilst the UK farmers become park keepers.

As farmers, we are constantly being monitored by well intentioned countryside lovers.

Last week we were cutting the grass around the edge of fields when a “concerned” walker took photographs and said he would send them to the authorities because hedge-cutting by farmers is illegal in July (although the discriminatory rules allow any non-farmer to cut them).

The hedge-trimming rules do not legislate against trimming field entrances and brews providing a risk assessment is undertaken to check for ground nesting birds, which we had done.

I wonder if that gentleman carries out a risk assessment when his cat goes out every morning?