BY JAMIE FOSTER
The latest outbreak in the war between the town and the countryside was caused by Natural England rescinding the general licence for shooting pest species of birds after campaigning by anti-shooting group Wild Justice headed up by Chris Packham. The rescinding of the general licence has left farmers and landowners in the lurch with no way of controlling predatory species such as crows and magpies. The campaign was just one more attack on the shooting industry by extreme ‘birders’ who want shooting made illegal.
The question that arises from this latest attack on the countryside relates to whether there is a culture war between the town and the countryside. It is a nuanced question with a lot feeding into it. On the one hand there is a real sense that the countryside is constantly under attack from legislation coming from the town. Things like the ban on hunting with dogs are seen as a question of the town seeking to impose its aesthetic sensibilities on the countryside despite not understanding how they are attacking the fabric of the countryside by attacking hunting. On the other hand there is a great deal of crossover between town and countryside with many country dwellers commuting to towns for employment. It is not as simple as saying there is a war between town and countryside and yet dismissing the possibility is to miss the point that the town and countryside have unique perspectives.
Shooting and hunting are only two of the countryside pursuits that have come under fire from town based campaign groups. Dairy farming, livestock farming and horse racing have all had protests too. It can be very hard for hard-working rural dwellers to understand what motivates their townie cousins who seem to have unlimited time on their hands in order to cause trouble. It can seem as if their living and work space is constantly being invaded by those who view the countryside as a sort of Disneyland for urban dwellers to escape the hell of towns.
It would seem a shame if the only interaction between town and countryside is hostility. Both have so much to offer the other. The town produces industry and the new while the countryside is essential for food production to sustain both town and countryside. Historically the best relationship has existed through give and take. Rural dwellers have come up to town to trade and for the excitement that town offers. Townies have come to the countryside for peace and nature. When this happens in a spirit of mutual respect both sides can be very happy with the exchanges. The problems come when those from the town seek to impose their views on how those who live and work in the countryside should behave.
It is all one way traffic in this war. There are no campaigns run by countryside dwellers demanding that rural dwellers live and work in certain ways. No laws change to affect the way urbanites live and work. This is despite the towns being polluting, resource hungry, habitat destroying areas that could easily be the focus of protest and legislation. It may be because rural dwellers are too busy with their own lives to come together to protest about the way townies are living theirs.
Brexit could be an opportunity to address the conflict between town and countryside. Our environmental laws will no longer be coming from Brussels and we will have the opportunity to make laws ourselves that better reflect the way people in the countryside live and work. If we can take this opportunity to ensure that laws affecting the countryside take the views of those living and working in the countryside into account then maybe we can ensure that any talk of a culture war between town and countryside becomes a thing of the past.
In the meantime we could expect more from Natural England than simply to cave to the demands of the yoghurt-weaving environmentalists who form Wild Justice. It has left the countryside in the lurch with what is simply a weak reaction to the overblown claims of the environmental lobby. We could have expected more of Michael Gove than to head up Defra at a time when a decision such as this one was taken. It does not help to ensure the tranquil relations between town and countryside when such decisions are made.