Look behind the antics of the British government, and you see another far less observable machine – global agribusiness, ceaselessly lobbying for the regulations that will drive the small producer from the market. Instead of resisting this pressure, governments encourage it: their task is so much easier when the production and distribution of food are controlled by a few agribusinesses and supermarket chains …
The old rural economy of Britain depended on the small-scale family farm, in which livestock and arable production were evenly mixed, with the product distributed through local abattoirs and local markets. The result was a thriving rural economy, an abundant supply of nutritious food and a self-renewing countryside. The unique appearance of our landscape results from this old economy, with hedges and boundaries maintained to keep in livestock, and copses and coverts set aside for hunting and shooting .
Whenever questioned, English people confess that this landscape is the real focus of their national loyalty, the one thing that we must not lose. Their attachment is not just to the appearance of the land, but to what it represents – the self-sufficient and gentle way of life that lingers in the collective consciousness, and which inspires us in times of national crisis. That way of life is now under threat; and if it dies, the landscape will also die, unless we can discover some other, and equally sustainable way to maintain it.
There is very little sign that the Blair Government cares about the problem. The disappearance of rural England will be noticed only some time beyond the next election; and the attempt to prevent it will not win many votes here and now. Every attempt to put the case for the countryside is brushed aside. The Government has ignored complaints against the supermarkets from the Office of Fair Trading; it has rejected the report of the Monopolies and Mergers Commission criticising Milk Marque, which holds 50 per cent of dairy farmers in thrall; it has pressed ahead with regulations that will kill off our remaining small abattoirs.
With supreme high-handedness, Tony Blair has promised to outlaw hunting – an activity which has kept rural communities together in the face of economic threat, and which, in my part of the world at least, is the single most effective guardian of the landscape.
Nor is it only the human fauna of our landscape that are threatened. Hardly a day passes without some new report on the precarious condition of Britain’s wildlife. Motorways, agribusiness, industrial farming and light pollution are destroying the habitats of all but the parasites.
The distressing statistics are received by the Government in silence, or brushed aside with a sneer. But they remind us that the countryside is a fragile organism, dependent on social and economic relations established at a local level. With a little thought these relations could be restored to their former vitality.[But] the decision has been taken to consign the rural English to oblivion and, whatever they say, it will not gain a hearing. Once these inconvenient people have been eliminated, our Government supposes, we can turn again to the countryside and devise a more sensible use for it. And to the astonishment of everyone, the countryside will then no longer exist.
Professor Roger Scruton, Current Concerns, October, 1999