Whenever I hear the word culture applied to the landscape I reach for my Manchester Rambler rather than my Wordsworth.
Talk of cultural landscapes is usually code for ‘landowners know best and always have done’ and an argument against necessary change. And so it seems to me to be here in the Glover review.
Natural beauty is about the human response to a place as well as the things in the place itself. It elevates us in mind and spirit. It is when the beauty in nature, in geology, insect life, storms and clouds, comes together with the beauty of a hand‑crafted farm gate, a Dales barn, or a shepherd’s crook, that the power of our landscapes is revealed.https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/833163/landscapes-review-final-report.pdf
Trouble is, we have been better at conserving the hand-crafted farm gate than the meadow that used to lie on the far side of it, and the Dales barn rather than the dale’s Barn Owl, and there are too many crooks in the uplands already (but we’d better not mention rampant wildlife crime).
Glover makes some excellent points about the white middle-aged men who have been running National Parks and AONBs for so long – it comes to something when if I were a member of a National Park board I would bring down the average age. But a more thorough analysis would demonstrate that it is their backgrounds as much as their gender or age that is the problem. These areas are over-dominated by local land owners and it is their mindset that has been stultifying in practice. Replacing the current board members with their wives might do wonders for gender balance and something, I’m guessing, for age balance but it wouldn’t free up the thinking very much I would contend.
It is even possible, isn’t it, that the reason that there are fewer black, Asian and ethnic minority visitors to National Parks than the Glover panel would like, and that Visible Ethnic Minority children are thin on the ground, is that these groups are less enamoured by the beauty of a hand-crafted farm gate, a Dales barn or a shepherd’s crook than Glover and his panel want them to be?
When Glover writes;
That is why the ideal of England’s green and pleasant land feels real to many of us. The British countryside makes more people proud of their country than anything else, even above the NHS and royal family. It defines how England is seen abroad. Books about our natural beauty fill bookshops. We care about what happens in the countryside, even if we don’t live in it.
… I just wonder how widely the ‘us’, ‘our’ and ‘we’ can be spread. I’d like to see that paragraph tested for sign up by Britons with different social and cultural backgrounds. Go on – someone do it – I’m gagging to know the truth.
Whereas I can easily agree with some of the above it seems just a bit of a stretch that it would be equally agreeable in Brixton, Toxteth or Brighton. If you analyse that passage above it is redolent of middle class conservative values: William Blake, the royal family, books? The British countryside does easily fill me with more pride than does (even?) the royal family and I am happier paying for the former than the latter. And the countryside also fills me with disquiet, as does the NHS, because we are passing on a more damaged version than the one we inherited and both their futures looks terribly insecure to me.
I wouldn’t want the landscapes test to replace the Tebbit cricket test.