Guardian: UK countryside a playground for the rich

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Jun 23 21:00:35 BST 2012

Our countryside has once again become a playground for the rich
As Britain heads towards Edwardian levels of 
inequality, the countryside reverts to a 
playground for the rich, in which anything that 
cannot be shot and eaten is shot and hung from a 
gibbet. The aristocracy is back in charge.
The number of pheasants the landowners release 
could be seen as a cipher for the state of 
society. In 1960, 50 pheasants were released for 
every 100 hectares of estates in the UK. This 
number rose slowly until the 1980s, when it 
climbed rapidly. It slowed in the 1990s, then 
shot up again as the City boomed. The graph I 
have seen ends in 2005, at 300 birds per hundred 
hectares. But between 2004 and today, the total 
release of pheasants in the UK has risen from 35 
million to 40 million. I would like to propose 
the pheasant, rather than the Gini coefficient, 
as the unit for measuring inequality.
This growth has been accompanied by a rapid 
consolidation of land ownership. When Kevin 
Cahill's book Who Owns Britain was published in 
2002, 69% of the land was in the hands of 0.6% of 
the population. Since then the concentration has 
intensified: between 2005 and 2011, government 
statistics show, the number of landholdings in 
England has fallen by 10%, while the average size 
of holding has risen by 12%. This could be one of 
the fastest consolidations of ownership since the Highland clearances.
But, according to Cameron's government, this has 
not gone far enough. It has lobbied against 
European proposals to cap the amount of farm 
subsidy a single estate can harvest, on the 
grounds that this "would impede consolidation".
The government wants the resurgent aristocracy to 
be hampered by as few concessions to the rest of 
society as possible. This year, for instance, 
only one pair of hen harriers has attempted to 
mate in England: the lowest number for around a 
century. Yet there is enough habitat in the 
uplands to support at least 300 pairs. Where are 
they? They have been shot and poisoned by grouse-shooting estates.
As the law stands, only the gamekeepers who carry 
out these killings can be prosecuted for them. 
The landowners who commission them are not 
liable. At the beginning of this year, Scotland 
introduced a new law of vicarious liability, 
which will make the owners responsible for 
illegal persecution of wildlife by their staff. 
But when Richard Benyon was challenged in the 
House of Commons to introduce the same law to 
England, he dismissed the proposal out of hand. 
It is entirely coincidental that Benyon also owns an 8,000-acre grouse estate.
Doubtless this also has nothing to do with the 
mysterious abandonment by the agency his 
department controls – Natural England – of its 
case against a grouse shoot in the Pennines. 
Natural England was prosecuting the Walshaw Moor 
estate, owned by the retail baron Richard 
Bannister, for damaging a site of special 
scientific interest. After dropping the case, it 
agreed that he could continue burning blanket 
bog: a practice that not only damages wildlife 
but also releases astonishing quantities of 
carbon dioxide as the peat ignites. Natural 
England refuses to explain why it abandoned the prosecution.
This agency has been reduced to a husk on 
Benyon's watch. In 2009 it published a mild and 
tentative document called Vital Uplands. It 
suggested that the land might be managed a little 
more sustainably, a few trees might be allowed to 
grow, there might be little less burning and a 
little more wildlife. The landowners went beserk. 
The Moorland Association, whose 200 members own 
and manage most of the grouse estates in England, 
denounced it on the grounds that it would invoke 
the frightful prospect of "encroachment of scrub and trees".
In February this year, Natural England's 
chairman, Poul Christensen, turned up at a 
meeting of the National Farmers' Union, publicly 
apologised for the document and denounced his 
agency's thought crimes. Vital Uplands was 
abandoned and its webpages deleted. Natural 
England explained that it had dropped the report 
because the government expected the agency "to 
work effectively with farmers and grouse moor managers".
Not that it had to worry. Christensen, a dairy 
farmer, sometimes seems to be more loyal to his 
industry than to conservation. The same goes for 
some of the other directors. Attending the 
meeting at which Christensen denounced his own 
staff was the NFU's outgoing uplands farming 
spokesman, a large landowner called Will 
Cockbain. Where is he now? On the board of Natural England.
Last week Benyon's department extended this 
appointments policy when it nominated nine new 
members of the national parks authorities. Among 
them were two chief executives, a former county 
chair of the NFU and a former director of the 
Country Land and Business Association.
In the countryside, as in the towns, policy is 
becoming the preserve of the 1%. The rest of us 
pay the landowners to expand their estates and 
destroy the wildlife. That's what they mean when 
they say we're all in this together. 

+44 (0)7786 952037
"Capitalism is institutionalised bribery."

"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic 
poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung

Fear not therefore: for there is nothing covered 
that shall not be revealed; and nothing hid that 
shall not be made known. What I tell you in 
darkness, that speak ye in the light and what ye 
hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. Matthew 10:26-27

Die Pride and Envie; Flesh, take the poor's advice.
Covetousnesse be gon: Come, Truth and Love arise.
Patience take the Crown; throw Anger out of dores:
Cast out Hypocrisie and Lust, which follows whores:
Then England sit in rest; Thy sorrows will have end;
Thy Sons will live in peace, and each will be a friend.  
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