I’d like to be ‘rurban’ please

The furthest you can get away from the sea in the UK is about 70 miles and it is up a hill in Derbyshire.  I wonder what is the furthest place away from the countryside?  I am guessing that it will be some point in central London – maybe the House of Commons itself? – but it can only be, at the most, 15 miles or so.

I live in something that I regard as a large village in east Northants but I am told it is a small town.  It’s about 400 yards (or metres) from my computer to the nearest arable field.  Does that make me rural or urban?

And is my mindset urban or rural?  I’m not quite sure – I do miss easy access to good opera, theatre and football but the compensation of being able to walk in woods, grasslands and wetlands near to where I live more than makes up for it in my view.  And watching art or sport on TV is a better substitute than watching nature on TV, I believe.

So when I see that there is a campaign to save the post of the ‘Rural Advocate’ I wonder whether this is someone who is advocating for me or for those people whose landholding starts 400 yards (or metres) from here.

Lord Euan Cameron, a former holder of this post ‘begged’ ministers to think again according to The Independent on Sunday and talked of the ‘unrecognised issues of rural deprivation’  which, I guess, include issues such as poor public transport (I am so glad that I am able financially and physically to drive), poor internet and phone reception (yes, these seem like essentials these days), loss of local shops and pubs and potential loss of libraries.

But in the Observer there were a bunch of letters criticising the supermarkets for their impacts on farmers, producers in developing countries, town centres and their, allegedly, cosy relationship with the Conservative Party (does that remind you of anything else that might have been in the news recently?).

Apparently it is Countryside Week – whatever that means?! This is the brainchild of the Prince of Wales and is supported by a couple of supermarkets too according to a letter in Monday’s Daily Telegraph.  Apparently the countryside needs saving, but most of the focus appears to be on farmers rather than the majority of people who live in the countryside.  Maybe those supermarkets could do a little more in their day jobs?

The Countryside Alliance sounds like it ought to be the organisation to join for those, like me, who love the countryside and there is much to recommend it in that it does deal with issues such as fly-tipping and rural broadband.  However, if you aren’t terribly keen on killing wildlife then you might be put off the Alliance.  On its home page there are four revolving images: a pretty stone cottage, some sausages, a kid with a firearm and a huntsman and fox hounds.  And look at its campaigns and the rural issues that are not hunting, shooting or fishing come way down the list.

If being rural means that I have to be a farmer or go out and kill things then I’m not very rural at all.

I really don’t know whether I am rural or urban – I’d rather like to be both if that’s OK with everyone?  I’d like to be ‘rurban’ please.

The issues of poverty, deprivation and unfairness are different in urban and rural areas but neither is more nor less important than the other.  Does it really help to talk up, or talk down, either the countryside or the non-countryside?

But here’s one thing that you urban people could do to be nicer to you rural people, and it is something on which I can agree with the NFU (gasp of surprise!).  Please don’t firebomb the countryside.  I first saw chinese lanterns moving slowly and beautifully through the sky in Stratford-upon-Avon last November 5th.  They looked very pretty.  But sending fires out into the countryside isn’t very fair or very clever is it?



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13 Replies to “I’d like to be ‘rurban’ please”

  1. At present i am classed as rural but shortly I may be classed as urban as a commercial shoot engulfs my property. I am not an anti but I do not see that urban people with more money than me can destroy the countryside. At present i have a 'rough' shoot around the house with may be 6 shoots a year and no killing of any so called 'vermin'. This new shoot has a 'war chest' of £13 million to buy up every thing that comes up in the area. Already the shoot backs up onto the RSPB reserve with 8000 Red legs released for the forth coming season. The land is not suitable for Red legs and many will end up in the RSPB reserve causing disease on Black Grouse and the few Grey Partridge the RSPB are trying to expand. The owner of this shoot runs a business where the public buy his product. To expand his business what a great opportunity to advertise his management of helping rare wildlife on his land rather than destroying it to the customer!

  2. Glad you raised this, Mark - a really important subject in a country where even most of the people who live in the countryside make their living from the cities. the land managers & businesses that seem to be doing best in the countryside are those that connect best with the urban wealth - and its reflected in eg the costs of Foot & Mouth which fell far harder on tourism than they did on farming. Country people struggle to come to terms with this and can be very antagonistic to an urban public which may be ignorant but, unlike some of their country cousins, are rarely maliscious. It looks like the Forestry Commission, derided by some hard foresters for going soft on timber, may well have got the relationship a lot better than most - and, ironically, still produces 60% of England's timber from 18% of its forests. Worth thinking about.

    1. It's the opposite in Scotland. Private forests produce more than the Forestry Commission but then you know what they say about statistics!

  3. "IF IT MEANS THAT I HAVE TO BE A FARMER OR GO OUT AND KILL THINGS THEN I'M NOT VERY RURAL AT ALL." You certainly are not if this is the limit of your understanding of rurality, which I'm sure it is not! Our agendas and potential to understand the bigger picture is often laid bare by our utterances even if they are only used to spark debate!

    Of course there needs to be a rural voice. By their nature governments are centralised and represent the majority who just happen to be urban, FACT. With each generation, urban growth has expanded, centralising populations, gobbling up productive ground to build without ensuring open space for biodiversity and local food supplies. Supermarkets stepped in to centralise, providing instant food, increasing the divide and disconnection from rural roots and understanding of the countryside.

    It is disingenuous to suggest that the Conservative party's "cosiness" with supermarkets is unique. Those with longer memories will remember the influential friendship between Tony Blair and Terry Leahy of Tesco which spawned the unprecedented growth of supermarket power and influence over policy since the early eighties.

    Being within a short distance of open ground has not provided the new rural elite with an understanding of nature neither has it made them peri urban or peri rural simply because they have moved address. A change in mindset to accompany the change of address would be required. Risk aversion, lack of competition and outdoor education in our schools along with ready meal mentality have all ensured the continuance of their unsustainable disconnection with where their food comes from.

    Our countryside is overpopulated with urbanites pretending to be rural and living unsustainable lifestyles. They can afford to live there whilst displacing the more resilient indigenous rural population who have the rural skills required to service the ever increasing urban population.

    No, living in or near open countryside does not guarantee an understanding of it although geographically it would qualify you as rural. Equally there will be people who can only afford to live in the cheaper, over crowded urban areas who have a deep instinct, love and understanding of the countryside but can not afford to live there.

    I want a fair rural voice, one that represents a sustainable future for rural areas and which will allow them to continue to service the over populated urban areas. At present that voice continues to be dominated by unsustainable plastic wrapped urban thinking with no understanding of how fragile the food security situation is.

  4. I agree. I was born and raised in the countryside and spent all of my life, apart from 10 years, living in or on the edge of the countryside. But, like most, I live in a (small) village/town (like you, not sure which anymore with urban creep!) and I am not a farmer, I don't like killing things, and I care about both the urban and rural landscapes as well as our wildlife.

    And it strikes me, from daily conversations with friends and strangers, that there are a lot of us around - we just don't seem to be thought of by policy makers, media (who like black versus white, town versus country) or some pressure groups who benefit from the same stereotypes.

    (I also agree about those dratted lanterns - and don't forget those damn helium balloons that end up in the sea harming wildlife - isn't it time we got both of these things banned?)

  5. A shoot with 8000 Redlegs only shooting 6 rough days each year !!!! What a load of ignorant crap !!!! 13 million war chest ?? Where does that come from ??

  6. I live in a suburban area on the edge of a housing estate. I have only 50 yards at most to go before I am in the countryside and if I walk in the right direction the next house after that is a mile or 2 down the M4. People buy houses here because they like the environment it brings. What does then surprise me is my neighbours find it strange when they are visited by foxes, grass snakes, bats etc. This is just local people not realising that there isn't a big wire fence between human and wildife environments.

    If people have that view at a very local level it is not surprising that there is this issue around how rural and urban work together and how one impacts on the other.

  7. As ever Mark an interesting point. I live on the edge of a small town with farmland within sight. I travel to work through a combination of farmland and woodland and work in a rural setting but my job isn't producing food or timber for all those urbanites. Although my work could be described as helping to provide cultural services for rural and urban dwellers alike. I was born in the largest city in the country but I have a deep interest where my food comes from and how it is produced. I use a rural bus service, although less so after recent cuts in the service. I've always found the rural/urban distinction a bit false. If I'm urban I'm happy for some of my taxes going to support services in rural areas. If i'm rural I'm happy that with this support comes a responsibility to look after the natural environment!

  8. I suspect Mark that like so many things in life, it is probably a rurban 'continuum'! Working with market towns, I can see both the relevance of the debate (influencing policy, spending etc.) and its shortcomings (simplistic, polarising etc.).

    Shared rural characteristics of settlement size, isolation and loss of services are important but at Action for Market Towns we have also tried to define different types of towns. Interestingly, I am off to your patch in 'rurban' East Northants this morning to look at how the future may be different for a Rushden and an Oundle plus the impact of growth in Corby or Wellingborough on them.

    We have helped set-up the 'Small Towns for Tomorrow' policy forum to help share ideas on how the rurban UK may change -look for the new discussion topics on LinkedIn.

    Some changes to our towns seem inevitable but others can be controlled by locals -will be interesting to see how this unfolds in Northamptonshire!

    1. Chris - welcome and thank you for your comment. I live between Rushden and Oundle and you will see some differences between them. Rushden's main street is much sadder and grottier than it was 10 years ago whereas Oundle's is just as posh and lively! If you could find a way to resurrect Rushden and Diamonds FC that would be great!


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