River Wissey Lovell Fuller

The Countryside Crisis

February 2001

Is there a problem?

I have spent the major part of my life living in a rural environment. I have witnessed the demise of village shops, pubs and post offices along with many rural bus services. Archie Norman, the shadow minister for the environment said, in a recent debate in the House of Commons, " At the moment the countryside is going through its worst crisis since the 1930's." Undoubtedly there is a complex farming crisis, but I admit to having little understanding of the problems. I am aware, of course, of the catastrophe. I am aware also of the heavy subsidies that farming has received in the past, and my contributions towards them. Yet the situation seems to have got worse. Farmers may be deserving of some sympathy and, perhaps, further assistance to help them diversify; I don't know. Obviously some changes are required. The number of people employed in farming is relatively small, however, so as far as the countryside as a whole is concerned. I am tempted, therefore, to say Crisis! What crisis?

Rural areas are not becoming depopulated - on the contrary. There has been a revolution in life styles, of course, brought about largely by the proliferation of car ownership. The rise in popularity of the supermarket and out-of town shopping complexes with adequate car parking space has led to the closure of many small shops in towns as well as in country villages. Similarly, rural post offices and pubs have closed and rural bus services discontinued because country dwellers have chosen not to use them. It is no use our complaining about the loss of services and seeking further subsidies, when the problems are largely of our own making, resulting from our choice of action. I recognize that the rural poor are in need of help, but perhaps no more so than the urban poor. Surely it would be better to direct the support to those who really need it rather than to subsidised services that the majorities have demonstrated that they do not really want. We once had better services but they failed due to lack of support. It is unlikely that increasing the subsidies in order to restore some of them will result in a significant increase in their use.

The possible ban on fox hunting is also cited as a factor contributing to a crisis in the countryside. Why? The extent of support for fox hunting amongst those that live in the country is questionable, as is the claimed extent of job losses. As a method of pest control it is very expensive and of doubtful effectiveness.

On balance I believe that we are fortunate to live in the country. We have a better quality of life compared with most of our urban cousins, we have less pollution, cheaper housing, less crime, better education and a more pleasant environment.

Ray Thompson

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