The Glover review (4) – it’s a culture thing

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.

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.


6 Replies to “The Glover review (4) – it’s a culture thing”

  1. “We care about what happens in the countryside, even if we don’t live in it.” Really ….

    There may well be a naive expectation amongst the population in general that the Govt. takes care of the countryside but the reality might be nearer to certain elements of countryside ownership having an expectation that if they spin the marketing then the public will subsidise their lifestyles under the guise of them being ‘guardians’ or ‘food security/sustainability’.

    Will we ever see public benefit from public funds?

    Plenty of talk, but where’s the tangible delivery of actions which deliver public / environmental benefit?

  2. Well you all need to just look around at how cheap your food is and that is the main job as farmers see it.
    Plenty of you now spend far far more on internet connection, mobile phones and contracts for them,meals out and bottles of wine for consumption at home but are quite happy to complain about farmers.
    You really need to consider that the National Parks are for everyone also the rest of the countryside.Other groups such as mountain bike enthusiasts would like a completely different type of countryside to what this blogs readers would like and many other groups demand different things.
    We are in the Peak Park and how anyone can moan about this defies logic except of course the killing of innocent animals and birds.

    1. I’d counter your comment by stating: how anyone can find beauty in a national park, that is largely marginal farmland, defies logic.

  3. There is another thing, Mark. A defining characteristic of the landscape lobby is that they simply don’t look at the beetle or Barn Owl – as long as the long view is green or purple, that is the landscape. Which is how the real damage has been done – the systematic intensification of land management which has gone almost unnoticed – after all, a grass field is a grass field isn’t it – its ? And there is still heather – that its being burnt more intensively, keepered ruthlessly and subjected to all sorts of drugs, and poisons, or that the field has gone from 10 grass species to one and is heavily fertilised with carbon-heavy artificial nitrogen really hasn’t mattered to the landscape lobby. Whilst nature conservation has been a remarkably quiescent fellow traveller on this journey, there is a big difference between the two lobbies; landscape is much more the preserve of the great and the good (the public school boys) and is about deep feelings (and the status quo) whilst nature conservation is much more science (grammar school) oriented and more into facts, even if that comes down to bemoaning the losses rather than fingering the real reasons.

  4. They say beauty is in the eyes of the beholders, and that really does apply to our landscapes. We can have a Brexit type argument on what that denotes, our vision on what it should look like, what should be in it and who pays for it will induce an antagonism of disagreement. The chocolate box image most people attend to, as their correct impression of our countryside is a falsehood of visual branding.

    At the heart of this problem as with everything else is us – the human race – we are basically ‘gardeners’; we farm and shape the natural environment to our needs, under the assumption that it will benefit nature. That alliance may have been true in the past, but we have out-striped nature with our technical/scientific advances. The nature reserves, woodlands, grouse moors etc. we go to are in fact ‘gardened’ for our benefit, the bodies that manage these resources do so with a financial intention.

    The prime example of this our farmland, we foolishly believe and mislead the public that we can recreate the farmland of the past, we can’t – it’s gone. I could at random take 20 people from the local Sainsbury’s to our rewilded farm project, all of them would comment that – “it’s a bit messy and doesn’t look much like a farm.” Their idea of what a farm should look like is the complete opposite on what they are viewing. But, the reality is – it’s full of nature. I know of no other project that has handed over the whole farm to nature, not even Knepp, as it is still operates as a commercial farm.

    Everyone will have a different view on what they want from their landscapes, be it, more housing and facilities, transport, or the beauty of The Downs, the management argument is not going away, it all depends on what is important to you.

    Whether we are doing the correct thing with our project is another issue – but I feel good about it

    1. I would contend that whether you are doing the right thing with your project is not the issue. We cannot give back all our farmland to nature, in the same way that we cannot give all our nature land over to farming. There has to be a balance. That will involve paying a lot more for our food, so that farmers can produce less on the land they have (and preferably without subsidy). This should be coupled with the notion to farmers that they do not need, neither for ‘us’, nor for their economic survival, to turn every square centimetre into a food-producing wasteland (nature-wise). Not easy. I haven’t attempted to address farming on out-bye land here.

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