This was sent to me by an elderly gentleman. No pictures are required.
“As a primary school child I lived in a mining village in Staffordshire. At the bottom of our garden – and an extension to our play area – was a field. It led to down to a stream and pond. We took the natural world for granted.
We also took for granted that tenant farmers and especially farm workers, had a tough time, aged prematurely, and were largely self sufficient in eggs, milk and poultry. We then moved to live in a residential area centred on manufacturing leather goods. It was wartime and the garden, plus an allotment, was used to produce food. Nearby farmland gradually shifted from ‘dog and stick’ farming to more productive but still labour intensive systems. They were made possible by the use of Italian prisoners of war – among whom I found some friends.
Nature was to be managed for food production – so I helped pick off the caterpillars and squashed the slugs.
Post-war we moved into a wholly suburban area – here, the front garden flowers mattered and we inherited two apple trees which largely looked after themselves alongside the additions of new plants given by friends. This was the time of the 1947 Agriculture Act – a time of austerity under Stafford Cripps that makes the current austerity seem only marginally inconvenient. Farmers were praised for their technical improvements, and they began to evaluate themselves by comparison with neighbours and to substitute capital (machinery and buildings) for labour.
In a few years, world markets moved from scarcity to surplus, prices fell and the budgetary cost of farm support began to embarrass ministers. The emphasis shifted from more production to more efficient production, and this often involved removal of hedges to facilitate machinery, installing field drainage, more use of chemicals to control pests and diseases, and intensification of livestock systems, as they became more reliant on bought-in feed. It was at this stage that the prewar countryside landscape began to change and with it, the natural environment for birds, wild mammals and fish.
This process of change made little impression on the non-farming suburban world where most of us lived.
Secure affordable food remained central to how we used our land. If some folk made a sport out of fishing or hunting, a few sensitive souls expressed concern but it was seen as a matter for countryside people rather than the urban masses. It was, I believe, when Rachel Carson published ‘Silent Spring‘ that concerns about what was happening to nature became a matter of anxiety to the general public. Today we refer to these concerns as ‘green issues’, which now include global issues around biodiversity and climate change.
One of the characteristics of the debate was the degree to which differing lobby groups espoused specific concerns – at the time, to an onlooker, the rhetoric used was wildly over the top and counter productive in terms of the need for objective research. Another shift, overtly political at the time, was the engagement and ‘capture’ of discourse on farm subsidies by environmental lobby groups – to the extent that, in the public’s eye, the profile of groups like RSPB and the NT became more associated with campaigning for the redirection of farm subsidies, rather than their central raison d’être as conservation NGOs.”
Obit of the contributor, Professor Sir John Marsh CBE
PS part II Sept 17 (published shortly before his death 30.9.17)