Farm Subsidy Into Land Purchase

Here's a thought for you.

As boringly wrong as Britain being an overcrowded island (so why do 5% of the population get to occupy 40% of the land?) is the current inanity that farmers are needed to maintain our picturesque countryside through their livestock management. I agree with a Dr Pearce that I don't want to see a "theme park Britain" (Letters, 29th March Independent ) but then I don't want his chocolate box view of a farmed countryside either. I am, instead, quite happy to see the scrub that Mr Tiplady (national park tourist officer) so fears would happen in the Lake District if livestock is removed (Lake Districts bid for heritage status is at risk, 29th March Independent) because scrub is the first stage of nature returning agricultural land to woodland.

We need more woodland and less farmland. At only 8% of land mass it is not enough compared to the 50% used for grazing land. Anyone denied their usual rural access of late will be particularly rueful when the use of woodland by the greater population is shown to be in the order of 50 million visits per year on Forestry Commission land. What we don't need is a countryside that is periodically closed to protect only one use.

I have a radical solution. Let's have some real National Parks, owned by the nation, rather than the compromise conglomerations of farmland that we have at the moment. The money to buy the land is there - the cost of BSE would have bought about 640,000 hectares, almost the same amount as current woodland. Estimates of the eventual cost of FMD vary between 1-9 billion which, even at the lower end, would buy us 140,000 hectares, a useful sized forest. Using the annual farming subsidy from ourselves and the EU each year, it would only take about 11 years before the nation owned all the grazing land. If that is too ambitious, how about using the money from the Countryside Stewardship Scheme which could buy 22,000 hectares a year. And in a painful irony for some of us, we wouldn't have to pay somebody to look after this commonweal countryside through a Stewardship Scheme as Mother Nature often does a better job than we mortals can ever do.

Anyone for a wild boar or deer burger?

Mark Fisher, 30 March 2001