Is the Countryside a Zoo?


When I was a child, the countryside was front and centre in my life. There was Boston’s farm literally at the end of my street where I was despatched every morning with a little milk churn in hand to buy raw milk. This practice continued until my teens when my Mum got mastitis and blamed the milk (wrongly in my father’s opinion) and we engaged the services of a milkman. I still miss the taste of that milk.

The farm was also the scene of my first paid employment. I foolishly thought that because I had little problem cleaning out our chickens and bantams I had the skillset to clean out the mobile battery trailers that the farm operated. If the French police could bottle the stench of a 1970’s battery then the Gilet Jaunes would be no longer parading the streets of Paris. Being a determined little tyke I stuck it out for two years until I got a slightly better job delivering newspapers.

My father was a countryman – my youth involved ferreting, hunting, fishing and mushrooming. I still remember the cuff I got for failing to tell the difference between a deathcap and a St George’s mushroom. My father had a pair of air rifles which had a foot poundage that would have got him locked up had the authorities tested them, which was probably why he hid them in a tall boy that we had in the huge shed at the end of the garden.

My experience of being a countryman was one of symbiosis, we killed to eat in an era when our family income didn’t always manage to stretch from payday to payday, but we repaid the countryside by going on working parties that helped declutter local pools and rivers which ameliorated the environment for wildlife and gave better access to fishermen.

I laboured for drystone wallers in the hills around Macclesfield – I’m not entirely sure that my back has ever recovered and a while later I found being a brickie’s labourer far easier. The Cheshire countryside was the most amazing ecosystem where agriculture and nature worked hand in hand. Sadly it now seems that the “Disneyland effect” that has been mentioned in this publication before has reached even the Cheshire countryside I used to live off.

I guess the thin end of the wedge was when Tony Blair banned fox hunting. (Let me put my cards on the table, I have reservations about fox hunting. Not out of sympathy for the fox. Anyone who’s ever been roused from their bed at three in the morning by panicking chickens only to find a dozen dead birds and a fox with a goofy look on his face before it scampers off with your best layer in its jaws can really feel love for Reynard. My reservations centre on the size of the dog pack. I’ve seen small mammals and family pets shredded by the mincing machine that is a hunting pack and it gives me pause for thought.)

On the back of the 2005 Act came the shock troops of the Ecofascists who have slowly strangled the countryman. Close to where I live now, Cheshire East council control a large tract of woodland called the Biddulph Valley Way, where most country pursuits are banned for ecological reasons. I’m currently in dispute with them over fishing in a tiny overgrown pond where I take my grandson fishing. It’s a beautiful venue which is perfect for a child to learn to fish and it’s got one fishable peg. Apparently they fear that anglers will transfer fish to even smaller still waters which contain newts. I don’t know any responsible anglers who would do that, but I do know that it wasn’t anglers who introduced American signal crayfish or for that matter grey squirrels.

So I’m right next to a country park which the authorities want us to treat as a viewing experience – a zoo if you will – rather than an interactive lifestyle.

Coded deeply into human DNA is the desire to hunt and gather food and with that desire comes a responsibility to preserve that food source. It would seem now that the authorities want to create islands of prehuman countryside whilst they concrete over the remainder and it saddens me greatly. It’s unwise and unnatural.

If there’s a change of government we need to use the political power of rural people to force the authorities to restore the countryside to its rightful place as a usable asset rather than an idealised, Packhamesque and untouchable exhibit. The same people whose ideology is destroying our society are also destroying our countryside and we need to remove these zealots from positions of power while exposing their pay-offs from animal rights groups who know not what they preach.

Paul Newall is a child of the 1960’s from a traditional Labour-supporting household. Paul dabbled with Trotskyism in the 1980’s but then “grew up and thanks to having responsibilities I slowly migrated across the political spectrum until instead of hating Maggie Thatcher I admired her for beating my side in the miners’ strike”.