For decades the United Kingdom of Great Britain has been famous for it’s natural beauty. Written of by countless poets and authors, painted and photographed by even more, this timeless wonder is under threat in a way that has never been seen until now. That beauty however, is declining at a dramatic rate and successive Governments (both Conservative and Labour) seem not to care about an issue that will impact not only on society today but on future generations as well.
Since we have democratic representation in the UK, I contacted my local MP, Labour’s David Drew, and his reply indicated support for the cause of the countryside; in three month’s time the Agricultural bill will be debated and he will be adding my concerns to it. This of course, is great, but will it be enough?
Farming has declined markedly in recent years for a number of reasons, one being the intense pressure from supermarket chains to get prices down. This translates in to a low purchase price for produce paid to farmers, to the point where some are forced to sell their harvested crop for less than it cost to grow to begin with. With no big cash reserves to subsidise a price war, that’s a fast way to closure for small farms. The big chains however, know fine well that with their financial muscle, they do have the cash needed to keep going whenever there is pressure on prices. The result is that an increasing number of farmers are giving in, giving up and selling up.
The problem is that what then becomes an unused farm is now redundant land; with no planning permission for housing on that land, it is worth very little so is bought by property developers for next to nothing compared to what they will later get when houses are built by them and sold by them.
Much is made by politicians of the need for more housing and often, their comments are aimed at young people, people just like me, but as somebody still in my teens, it is my generation, as well as those coming after me, that will suffer the loss of the green fields of England, not to mention those around the rest of the UK.
Whether greenbelt land is built on for houses or used for fracking (or for anything else), the end result is the same – a country that will look like the planet in the Star Wars movies that is completely built over, with not a tree or field to be seen.
I am of course, not the only one who thinks of our disappearing countryside but in what seems to be becoming a mad rush to build more houses, and on greenbelt land, nobody appears to be thinking about the continuing loss of plant life. It may be very easy to shrug and dismiss a line of trees but think of this; in Kevan James’ excellent book, Comments of a Common Man, (Amazon £9.99) he includes a chapter on Grenfell Tower and the wisdom, or rather lack of it, on how and where we build housing. He writes:
…where does the oxygen produced by plant life come from when there are no plants because the ground is covered by the never-ending growth in population (a population that breathes out the poison that the plants need to produce oxygen that we need)? It is humanity’s eternal dilemma; keep breeding, keep filling the available space, keep building high and keep dying because of it. Yet elsewhere in this very book, I made the point that there are alternatives, that there is space in which to build homes. If that is, we care to look for them and use them with thought and care.
He is of course, right when he points out that we, the human species, breath out toxic fumes, then used by plant life to produce the fresh air we need to breathe in – and if there is no oxygen, we die.
Sadly we in the UK are not alone however. Published in the journal, Nature, a recent study by Queensland University revealed that in the last twenty years, the world has lost wilderness land the size of India – 1.2 million square miles of land in which plant and animal life previously flourished. Researcher James Allen said that such areas need protection as they are the habitat for wildlife and help protect the planet; forests for example, absorb the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. The University’s Professor James Watson added, ‘A century ago, only 15 per cent of the Earth’s surface was used…Today, more than 77 per cent of the land – excluding Antarctica – and 87 per cent of the ocean has been modified by…human activities’.
Since so much of the earth has already been used, why do we have to build on green fields in the UK (and elsewhere)? The answer is money – and lots of it. Brownfield land is that which has already been developed but is now unused. Land like this had previously been the site of, for example, factories, and as such is often contaminated land. By what is something else, but whatever the contamination (and how much of it there may or may not be) it costs more to make it suitable for housing and before a brick is laid. Right there is the problem; property developers are greedy so do not want to spend money decontaminating brownfield sites when they can acquire farmland for almost nothing by comparison – and the profits made by house builders are huge, particularly given the stupidly-high prices now demanded of those wanting to buy their own home (or rent it).
One possible solution might be legislation to prevent building on greenbelt land and with that in mind, I started a petition on change.org. In addition, and among others, I contacted Conservative MP Richard Graham. He replied with the following:
Dear Lee, Thanks for this. I understand the spirit behind it, and love our countryside as much as the next man – I was brought up on a small holding - but I absolutely do not agree that we need ‘to create legislation which stops any more building’. We need a lot more houses which would provide our children and grandchildren with a much greater chance of getting on the housing ladder. Yes brown field first where possible: but some green fields in our country will be used for homes, and rightly so. Best regards, Richard
Politicians are notorious for not thinking ahead, but only of their immediate and short-term requirements, and of course, looking good in newspaper headlines, hence the comment about children and grandchildren. It’s a sound-bite that is currently very popular among those who live in the Westminster bubble, insulated from the reality of life and the consequences of their actions. Such thinking is a betrayal of future generations, who will have to live with, and try to clear up, the mess being made today. That includes people like me. Yes we do need more housing but it cannot and must not be at the expense of our rapidly disappearing countryside. Because it is people like me who will be around in forty and fifty years time who will have to live with those consequences.
You can find the petitions at the following addresses: