The Scouring of the Shires


In an episode of Chopper’s Politics, I was unfortunately reminded of Boris Johnson’s plan to usher in a so-called ‘green industrial revolution’ in Britain. Obviously another crypto-globalist fever dream poorly wrapped in Conservative paper, the Tory drive towards ‘net-zero’ is nothing more than another example of the all familiar promises to greenify our society. ‘Green’ public transport. ‘Green’ electric vehicles. ‘Green’ buildings; whatever that means, no doubt it will fit with the themes ascribed by the vegan coffee shop/house plant stockists in all the places that bureaucrats and students love to frequent. 

But, like anything coming out of Westminster (or any other government in the Anglosphere) in recent years, there are many more sinister goals hidden within Boris’ so-called Ten Point Plan. Perhaps Liz Truss would care to address them? One is called ‘rewilding’.

Rewilding, on the face of it, sounds like a jolly good thing. Appearing regularly in the news over recent months, its component prefix suggests an ‘again’; the ‘return’ or ‘rebirth’ of something — a wild Britain. We might imagine, like the narrator of this video, that in our island of tomorrow the distinctive upland landscapes of parts of Northern England, Wales, and Scotland have gloriously returned to their unmanaged states. We see a land devoid of sheep, the fox, dry-stone-walled fields, sporadic lone oaks and the odd covey of grouse for those pesky aristocrats to shoot with their archaic tweed-wearing buddies. We see a “healed” land, a land free of human “persecution.”

As the narrator of Rewilding Britain’s video so optimistically describes, “colour, texture, and life” has returned to our “green, brown, and lumpy” valleys. A lynx, not seen in England for 1,300 yearssits in a tree as it surveys its surroundings, its branch bearing the limp body of its foxen prey. An eagle, boar gripped in talon, scans gracefully across the breadth of the once quintessentially English scene. We notice the absence of the fields, the sheep, the grouse. The beautiful severity of the rolling hills once carefully tended by generations of likely the same family is all gone. 

But in this glorious future, people far and wide visit the valley to engage in such recreational activities as ‘glamping’. They bask in all its Palaeolithic trendiness as they momentarily abandon their Metaverse avatars to “forage for berries and mushrooms.” Some, along with the ‘locals’, work to cultivate food in tightly controlled poly-tunnel ‘market gardens’. Others engage in “scientific monitoring” or “nature schools” as means of teaching children the way to appreciate nature. 

In the hills above, a picturesque scene fitting of the American frontier, “Wild boar, free-ranging cattle, and red deer” roam, all providing “small quantities” of meat to those who we might suspect have not yet followed the fashion and converted to veganism. Beavers and nude swimmers share the waters of the large lake which now constitutes much of the valley floor. “Oh, how gorgeous!” is heard over the way as Tarquin Ponsonby-Smythe from London tucks into a sizzling venison and avocado burger in his yurt near the old grey farmhouse, now converted into an artist’s studio. 

Uplands of the North York Moors

Many of our national parks already resemble the prior illustration for the most part. It is hard, however, to imagine that vast swathes of our island will one day be transformed into the kind of Paleo-utopia envisioned by Rewilding Britain. Even unlikelier is that this will be achieved before 2050, when Britain’s population will, by most official accounts, number nearly 80-million (if we’re not there already). 

Drives towards Britain’s ‘rewilding’ by the likes of Boris Johnson should sound alarm bells. On its face a non-partisan issue, it is conceivable that government-spearheaded rewilding will prove nothing more than another opportunity for the land-owning elite and Tory property developers to line their pockets with millions in public funding. At worst, it could prove disastrous for Britain. From Land’s End to John o’Groats, our island’s ecology, capacity for self-sustainability, and cultural identity will be forever changed. 

Anyone familiar with UK farming knows that small farmers are heavily dependent on government subsidies to make a living. Under the disastrously restrictive behemoth of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), subsidies were handed out to farmers each year based on how much land they worked. This meant that, as a sheep farmer earning only around £12,000 profit from 700 sheep over a 1,250-acre farm, one would collect an additional £44,000 in subsidies. In post-Brexit Britain, however, and with a £3.4 billion a year hole left where there was once EU funding, the UK government would be expected to foot the bill. It is not surprising, therefore, that it has an entirely different vision for the future of British agriculture. 

In what the big-c-Conservatives describe as a “radical” programme to transform Britain’s environment, Westminster plans to subsidise farmers based not on the acreage they work, but on the land they ‘return’ to nature. Now, in theory, I have no gripe with the government awarding money to farmers for good environmental practice. The preservation and cultivation of hedgerows; the stocking of field margins with wildflowers; the population of select areas of land with deciduous trees: these all are examples of practice that today already earn farmers and landowners tidy rewards from the government while greatly benefitting local ecosystems and farm productivity

But if the Tories’ plans are anything to go by, vast swathes of our countryside will be subject to the bureaucrats’ “radical” programme of ‘rewilding’. By 2030, the government expects 30 per cent of UK land will be “protected and improved.” By 2042, an area the size of Lancashire will have returned to the ‘wild’. 

Cherhill Monument and North Wilts Downs | R. Cranstoun

Granted, to assign negative connotation to such projections may sound like catastrophisation on my part. What is, after all, wrong with ‘a bit more’ room for Mother Nature’s flourishings within our antiquated pastoral landscapes? There are multiple reasons for my scepticism. Despite the assurances of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Secretary George Eustice that the government’s aims are oh so virtuously designed to find a healthy balance between “profitable farm businesses” and “the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” it is, to me, foreseeable that the ‘green industrial revolution’ will probably just prove a triple-tap to the delicate head of the countryside.

British farmers have struggled since the latter part of the 20th century to keep up with the demands of the modern market. Perhaps an inevitable, maybe even desirable consequence of economic rationalism and globalisation. Of all the incoming green initiatives, ‘rewilding’ will be the final nail in the coffin. Firmly in the grip of the hydra of government regulation and the monopoly of supermarkets able to dictate the catastrophically low produce prices of the type recently discovered by Jeremy Clarkson, between 2005 and 2015 a third of the UK’s small farms under 50 hectares were lost. Meanwhile, the number of farms above 100 hectares was constantly on the rise, as well as the percentage of farmers subject to the tenancy of, most often, billionaire landowners and agri-business. 

What does this mean? As has already been described by disaffected Welsh farmers, Boris’ ‘green industrial revolution’ will produce nothing more than the same. It is indeed a “weird kind of Highland Clearance,” this time designed to fulfil the creepy eco-progressive fetishes of the Cathedral, against a backcloth of increased food security issues thanks to Vladimir Putin. 

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs already suspect that the phasing-out of worked-land subsidies in favour of green initiatives will inspire many farmers, through financial pressure or disenfranchisement with the project, to soon leave the sector. With no other economically viable choice but to follow the government’s edicts, thousands-upon-thousands of small family farms will be coerced to “do the right thing” and “make space for nature.” 

What is likely to happen in this eventuality?

Our ancestral homeland, cosmetically static across generations, will be left to the devices of the elite and their “landscape recovery” schemes; their “intensive interventions.” Agribusiness’, wealthy landowners, and billionaires looking to make a “tax-efficient” investment will move in and buy up the land driven from its custodians, the latter two likely taking full advantage of the millions on offer from the impoverished taxpayer in implementing Whitehall’s lucrative ‘rewilding’ schemes. Like always, the Tory donor property developers and their love of prime arable real estate will then swoop in like vultures to feed on the pickings. All of this, of course, will be in the name of globalist “sustainability” and the fulfilment of arbitrary “biodiversity” quotas: the oft-cited favourite concern of the green-fingered-but-never-worked-a-day urbanite racketeers.

Ironically, these ‘eco-friendly’ upgrades to the countryside will probably only result in indirect net negatives. In his vision for net-zero by 2050, Boris promised to “restore the abundance of nature by rewilding 30,000 football pitches worth of countryside.” Very good, but what of the decline of arable farmland increasing our reliance on carbon-intensive foreign imports from countries with sometimes exponentially poorer standards of environmental sustainability? What of the effects of handing over our (granted, presently inefficient) arable fields to rewilding and land-use changes? Can this not only leave us dependent on imports and fluctuations in the price of food in the event of pressure on global supply chains, as we are experiencing now? What of the warnings issued by various experts on the limits of “high-risk conservation strategies” at the more radical end of ‘rewilding’ (the reintroduction of long-absent species, for example) and the dangers associated with rapid and forced change to fragile ecosystems? 

Still, beyond these rationalistic questions and debates of pros and cons is a deeper metaphysical question — one of identity. Our pastoral lands truly and uniquely speak to a British aesthetic. Patchwork fields, higgledy-piggledy lanes, babbling brooks and lone oaks. Our countryside is a living time capsule, a tangible portal into our collective heritage. To walk in its grandeur is to view in real-time the great living tapestry of generational stewardship stretching back to the very roots of our culture. Like our trusty ‘living fences’, sometimes still growing where they have stood since the Bronze Age, our countryside is the quintessential manifestation of British defiance against entropy and chaos. Like the hedgerow, it changes little and slowly across time. Always contextual and respectful; always with mentation of past, present, and future generations. It is our collective home, our garden.

It might be desirable to allow for the aesthetic of our countryside to change for the ‘greater good’, to realise homegrown produce is indeed inefficient and ineffectual in a plentiful global market and to allow the thousand-year garden to return to the wild. But with that, are we not certain to embark on the gradual erosion of our identity, the veiling of our ancestral context? Is it not proper to progress into the future with the ancient world closely and safely in tow? 

It was said by Edmund Burke that “people will not look forward to posterity who never look backward to their ancestors.” Rewilding Britain maintain that “there is no reason we shouldn’t have lynx back in Britain”; to that end, I ask, is there not no reason why we should? I don’t want to be walking in the hills with my children to see a lynx sitting halfway up a tree, boar in mouth, like some weird bastardised version of an African safari ride. I don’t want to see the removal of farming folk from their ancestral properties, their traditions, their livelihoods for empty eco-globalist gains. I don’t want to see the country morph into something alien as the hedgerows delineating our patchwork fields grow into trees through agribusiness’ neglect; as uniform forestry replaces what was once farmland and vapid modern housing estates choke everything in between. I don’t want to see the scouring of the shires.

British agricultural hedge laid in the Midland style. Small trees (pleachers) are partially cut at the base, leant to one side, and intertwined. Cuts at the stem (coppicing) encourage the tree to produce new growth, in turn forming a dense barrier. Hedges are carefully relayed once bottom growth achieves a certain height, the hedgelayer then restarting the cycle.

Rory Cranstoun is a journalist and editor at Born in the late 90s to British parents on a US Air Force base in Little Rock, Arkansas, he has since spent his life in Wiltshire’s rolling northern downlands. Writing about everything from philosophy to military strategy, Rory is most concerned with issues of localism and community, specifically in regard to the debasement of Britain’s rural character at the hand of green-fingered metropolitan edicts. He holds a degree in music and has two dogs: Bramble and Rigsby, a Jack Russell and Burgos Pointer, respectively. Rory supports Bath RFC.