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The Future of the British Countryside.

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THE FUTURE OF THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE Nick Everitt, December 2003 (1475 words) The Future of the British Countryside For centuries the British rural landscape has been dominated by agriculture, beginning with Neolithic man about five thousand years ago. Before then, most of Britain was covered with forest. Prior to the Bronze Age (about 1700 B.C.), what agriculture existed was 'slash and burn', with no permanent settlements. The Bronze Age saw the establishment of a more permanent field pattern. When the Romans arrived, bringing with them new species of flora and fauna such as pheasant and Castanea sativa (sweet chestnut), they began the drainage of the fens and British wetlands began to be lost. The Normans found, upon their arrival, that most large tracts of forest had been lost to agriculture and they set about restoring some forests in order to facilitate their enjoyment of hunting. By the Middle Ages, sheep farming had become extremely important, leading to the creation of large areas of open grassland for grazing and, ultimately, to gradual enclosure, culminating in the parliamentary enclosures of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries which brought heathlands under the plough. People lost land and common rights and workers were displaced from the countryside into towns to find work. It was the two World Wars that revived agriculture. Britain's supply lines were under threat and it was suddenly vital that the country was able to produce enough food to sustain its citizens. ...read more.


Other schemes such as the Rural Enterprise Scheme will help landowners to diversify and to become less reliant on agriculture, benefiting the rural community as a whole. Farmers are already using fewer chemicals (due in part to assurance schemes demanding less chemical input, but largely due to expense outweighing the advantages) and are moving away from ploughing towards minimum tillage. Again, this is due to costs, since tillage is faster than ploughing, but is important as ploughing leaves soil susceptible to erosion. Supermarkets have a huge, and increasing, influence over agricultural producers. Superficially, this appears beneficial to the environment as they have introduced assurance schemes in response to public concerns over food safety and animal welfare. However, it is only the large farms that are able to produce the quantities demanded by the supermarkets and it is the largest farms that tend to be the most intensive. Although the countryside has been shaped by agriculture, since the industrial revolution, it has also seen significant losses to urbanisation. In 1811 the population of Britain was around 12 million (Genealogical Research in England and Wales, 2003). By 1911 it was 41 million and in 2001 was around 57 million (National Statistics, 2003). Obviously, population growth means more demand for housing and an inevitable creep of housing into the countryside surrounding urban areas. There has also been a shift towards out-of-town shopping centres and industrial estates since the 1980s. ...read more.


However, the future of the British countryside is not all rosy. There are large areas of countryside that lie outside of designated conservation areas and these areas could see increases in building, as planning consent is easier to obtain. Areas of green belt land, particularly in the south-east where housing needs are high are also very much at risk. As agriculture is reduced, it is likely that land around towns and cities will become unmanaged wastelands and attract fly-tippers. Demand for grassland is decreasing. Less milk is being consumed, falling from 16 500 million litres in 1983 to 14 000 million litres in 2001, so there is less need for grazing (National Statistics, 2003). Under these circumstances, there is the danger that local authorities may well decide that the land would be better used for development. Both this, and future governments will always put national business sentiments and housing needs ahead of local conservation issues, and business demands buildings and travel links, so continued development of roads, airport expansions and the like are inevitable. However, with the exception of the large farms which may increase intensification in order to compete in a free market without production support, the environment will benefit in the coming years. With the aid of grants, more hedgerows will be re-established, more field margins introduced and more trees planted. Yes, there will be a loss of the countryside to development but, thanks largely to the CAP reforms and conservation designations, that which remains will be of a higher environmental value than has been seen for decades. ...read more.

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