Richard North, 06/09/2021  

Gone are the days when ministers routinely make statements to the Commons, announcing policy directions. Nowadays, we get balls-aching, snivelling pieces in the paywall press – vanity publishing for the semi-literate, directed mostly at the faithful.

This time round, it's that intellectually-challenged apology for an environment minister, George Eustice, the very latest in the long line of half-wits entrusted with formulating Britain's rural policy, in a nation that is unused to being able to manage its own policies, having first to rely on Brussels to mess them up before our ministers get to play with them and make them even worse.

Now this half-wit is prattling about "hedgerows" in an authored piece under the heading, "Brexit can help us protect our countryside's iconic character", with the sub-head, "Our exit from the European Union brings huge possibilities to unite environmental improvement with sustainable farming".

Possibly he wrote the text himself, although – like the vets in ministry employ – perhaps he's only qualified on crayons and need the grown-up hold the pencils. But whoever penned it, the drivel starts with the staggering assertion:
Hedgerows are probably the single most important ecological building blocks in our farmed landscape. They maintain the distinctive character of our countryside and provide crucial habitats and food for wildlife.
One wonders whether this half-wit has actually been to Yorkshire – West Yorkshire, to be precise. The above picture is taken in a village about ten minutes' drive from where I live. And yes, there is a hedge in it – which defines a private garden. But field boundaries are marked by dry-stone walling.

The further up the hills you go, the less tree cover and shrubbery there is and up on the moors, it's a thin scraping of soil over the rock, on which grass just about manages to survive, delineated by dry-stone walling to the end of the known universe which, as we all know, stops at the Lancashire border. There, they have very wet walls, owing to the constant rain which stretches up as far as Cumbria where they have neither hedges nor walls.

Nevertheless, this idiot masquerading as an environment secretary prattles on about "the benefits of hedgerows and their ability to become champions of climate action and nature recovery". Hedgerows, he says, "can store carbon, improve local air quality and benefit the rural economy by boosting job creation for hedgerow planting and management in local communities".

As far as carbon capture goes, he might care to reflect that Yorkshire got there first. The stone that makes the walls absorbed carbon from the Dinantian Epoch of the Carboniferous Period, a mere 363 or so million years ago, laying the foundation for human civilisation which, quite evidently, hasn't got as far as London yet.

But then the idiot Eustice hails from the west country and probably hasn't been as far as Yorkshire yet – one of these types who gets a nose-bleed when he comes north of Watford Gap. He thus typifies the ignorant, self-centred southern-dominated governance of this benighted country where the intellectual horizons terminate abruptly a few miles north of the Westminster swamp.

The man also typifies the very worst of post-Brexit policy-making. For years we have railed about the fatuity of trying to make a common agricultural policy covering a territory which embraces the tundra of Finland to the arid plains of Andalusia, and all points in between.

We did not strive, therefore, to repatriate policy-making to the UK only to have some half-wit in Whitehall make agricultural policy for England so that we can whitter on about the characteristic "patchwork quilt" that is so iconic of the landscapes across our islands.

It is, the pencil-holder says, "not only a feature of enormous ecological benefit, but is also of great cultural and historic significance, setting out patterns of field boundaries that in some cases can be traced back to the Domesday Book".

"In spring", it eulogises, these mythical hedgerows "are draped with flowers, in Summer buzz with the sound of insects and jingle with the sound visiting migrant birds, such as Whitethroats and Blackcaps. In autumn hedgerows are smothered with fruits that feed not only many of our native birds, but also those that join us for the winter, such as Fieldfares and Redwings".

Give us a break!

The trouble is that this half-wit is actually serious. He's talking about planning to "Nature's recovery" – in the scrap of lard left after we've housed all the Afghan refugees in their three and four-bed mansions – setting is all out "in our ground-breaking 25 Year Environment Plan".

It is clear, he says, that not only will we need to create new areas of habitat, but also to look after the important features we have left. Hedgerows, he warbles, "offer particular opportunities, not least as a means to unite food production with the restoration of wildlife populations, while also discharging other important roles, such as catching carbon from air".

If he really wanted to do something to "unite food production with the restoration of wildlife populations", of course, he could sort out the devastation caused by the Whitehall-mediated disaster of a slaughterhouse policy, brought to us initially by the buffoons in Brussels but made inestimably worse by a veterinary dominated Defra who grabbed with both hands the opportunity of launching another professional revenue stream on the backs of the meat industry.

Restore the network of local slaughterhouses, and an intelligent regulatory system, to give livestock farmers easy and cheap access to the market, and they will populate the fields (the few that are left which are not covered in new housing for Afghan refugees) with animals, which in turn will attract wildlife (as long as they're not TB-ridden badgers), even in Yorkshire with its dry-stone walls.

Eustice asserts that "our exit from the European Union has brought with it huge possibilities in this regard, to unite our environmental improvement and sustainable farming". One major step toward this goal, he says, is to replace arbitrary area based subsidies with a new system of paying farmers for the way they manage environmental assets on their farms like soils, water features, trees or hedges".

But he ain't going to do this sitting on his arse in Whitehall, devising centralised schemes for an imagined countryside that doesn't exist in a countryside about which he quite obviously knows very little. As with a common agricultural policy which covers the whole of Europe, the idea of a common policy for the whole of England – much less Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland – is utterly fatuous.

Eustice might delve into his history books and find that the idea od a centralised, national agriculture ministry is relatively new. It really only came into being with the Second World War when it because necessary to micro-manage scarce food resources to ward off starvation from a besieged nation.

Now that the Hun is not longer at the door, and we've put Brussels back in its box, we should devolve agricultural policy back to where it belongs – the counties. There, with local knowledge and central government money, specific policies can be devised for regions as diverse as the rolling chalk hills of Susses, to the windswept moors of West Yorkshire and the broad sweeps of East Anglia – with enough money left to tow Lancashire out to sea and sink it.

Then, an only then might we be relieved from the stupidity of a minister who warbles on about his "primary tools to deliver environmentally beneficial hedgerow management and hedgerow creation", and rewarding the work that farmers do "to manage every metre of hedgerow on their holdings sustainably so that we can maintain the distinctive character of our countryside".

We ain't got no bloody 'edges up 'ere, Mr Useless. What abaat our friggin' walls?

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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