[diggers350] Urgent Action Needed: Somerset County Farms Under Threat

David Bangs dave.bangs at virgin.net
Tue Dec 8 10:35:11 GMT 2009

It is terrible that you are now faced with the loss of the Somerset County Farms, just as they have been lost in so many other counties over the last few decades. Here in both West and East Sussex there are no longer any County Smallholdings, as a result of the sale of the last farms to their tenants or upon the cessation of the tenancies. 

Here in Sussex, though, we have won two important fights for the retention of farmed countryside in local authority ownership. In Worthing we won (last week) a sharp campaign to retain a 177 acre farm (part of the council's 400 plus acre downland estate) and in Brighton we won the battle in 1994-5 for the retention of the 13,000 plus acre downland estate. The grounds on which we won were chiefly around conservation (of species-rich down pasture and other semi-natural & cultural features) and public access, though issues of finance and and sustainable agriculture played a secondary part. Both campaigns were very popular and had high levels of support in the local communities. 

My memory of my small engagement with the CC Smallholdings issue at that time was that those County Councils which were positively investing in, enhancing, and committing to the future of their estates (like Cambridgeshire and some other E Anglian Councils) were visualising their farms as providing a much wider range of services than just democratic access to farming (the farming ladder). They were supporting new public access, wildlife and landscape enhancement. Certainly these were the reasons that brought the urban public behind us in the 2 successful Sussex campaigns. 

I think you must be doing all these things already, but I can say that that is the right way to win...argue for democracy in access not just to farming but to nature and the countryside...and argue for biodiversity and landscape conservation as CENTRAL concerns. 

Lastly, we were helped in Brighton by the fact that the capital receipts would have been so reduced by the fact that none of the farmland was in hand. All of the farms had tenants on full agricultural tenancies and receipts would have been halved for that reason. That argument applies in Somerset, too, though in a weaker form becos of the 'for one life only' nature of CC Smallholding tenancies. 

Still, this will be a fire sale with very poor returns.

After the success of our Brighton campaign in 1995 I did a survey of all British local authorities (with the help of a small grant from the Open Spaces Society) to ascertain the trends in local authority ownership of the countryside. There were two very clear and opposing trends. ONE was a trend for the continuing acquisition of land of wildlife, landscape and recreational value by local councils, chiefly on a District and Borough level. And the OTHER was the continuing trend for the County Councils to sell their Smallholdings Estates. 

There was a clear geographical divide, too. In the English lowland counties of East Anglia, the midlands, and eastern England the CC Smallholdings were the main public and quasi-public sector farmholdings. The conservation bodies that in the south east and south west and parts of the uplands had such large landholdings (the Nat Trust, C Wildlife Trusts, Woodland Trust, and some local authorities) had no significant presence in the lowlands.

Public values in toto were represented by the CC Smallholdings in the lowlands, just as public values tended to be represented in public consciousness by the conservation and amenity landholders in the other half of Britain.

Plainly the future lies in uniting both aspects in a single project, despite the tensions and secondary contradictions that exist between them,

All power to your vital campaign

Dave Bangs

  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: dansunrise2009 
  To: diggers350 at yahoogroups.com 
  Sent: Tuesday, December 08, 2009 12:39 AM
  Subject: [diggers350] Urgent Action Needed: Somerset County Farms Under Threat

  Today/Tomorrow (Tuesday 8th December), the Conservative administration of Somerset County Council plan to meet in secret to decide whether to accept a proposal to sell off, with immediate effect, ALL County Farms. 

  This will be to the highest bidder at auction. The aim is to raise short term funds...obviously at the cost of the future food security of Somerset, and in opposition to their moral responsibilities as custodians of an entrusted estate. The County Farm estate is a community asset. SCC have been stripping it for years, but this will be the final nail in the coffin. It stands in direct opposition to last weeks NFU South West report on the value of County Farms - http://www.nfuonline.com/x43591.xml

  Anybody in Somerset who wishes to oppose this, please get in touch ASAP. Tonight, at a meeting of Somerset Land and Food, representatives of groups including the Soil Association, Wessex Community Assets, Somerset Community Food, Somerset Primary Care Trust and many others, all agreed to oppose the move with a united voice.

  Email dansunrise at gmail.com if you feel you can help in this campaign. Otherwise, write to the press, your local member and shout it out everywhere you can. 


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