Hinterland - 04 March

In Hinterland this week - In Hinterland this week: challenges for farmers and fishermen, controversy around policy impacts on old people, the countryside and wind farms all finished off with a heart warming story about someone who has decided they love a lurcher! Read on...

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Brexit and bad weather puts UK farmers at risk of suicide, say charities

Jessica and I along with colleagues at the University of Lincoln recently finished a commission for the Worshipful Company of Farmers on these issues and what we found resonates very strongly with this article which tells us:

Charities have said British farmers are increasingly at risk of suicide owing in part to uncertainty over Brexit and the impact of bad weather.

Distressed farmers have made dozens of calls to crisis networks and some have been placed on “suicide watch”, according to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU).

The NFU – the UK’s largest farming organisation, representing thousands of agricultural workers – said farmers were still struggling with the impact of the “beast from the east” snowstorms last year and the summer drought.

Alistair Mackintosh, the NFU’s Cumbrian council delegate, said: “I’ve had many worrying telephone calls just in the last two or three weeks from farmers who want to give up, and who are on suicide watch. But what I fear most is those who do not telephone you.”

Mackintosh, a sheep farmer, said he was finding it hard dealing with the cries for help. “When you’re aware of the suicide rate for UK farmers and their exceptional difficulties, there is every reason to fear we will see more such acts,” he said.

According to figures released last year by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), between 2011 and 2015 approximately one agricultural worker a week killed themselves.

Adam Day, the managing director of Penrith-based The Farmer Network, said Brexit had created a “ticking timebomb” in the farming community.

He said: “These are unprecedented times. The farming community is facing a perfect storm, and greater emotional support is going to be needed. Without a Brexit deal, sheep producers have no idea whether they will be able to export this season’s lambs beyond 29 March.

“Whichever way Brexit goes, farmers are facing a £25-30 a head loss on this year’s lambs. It is going to be absolutely dire. We already have phone calls from farmers saying ‘things are not very good and we don’t know which way to turn’.

Georgina Lamb, of the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institute (RABI), said the charity was dealing with increasing numbers of cases. She said livestock farmers, in particular, were struggling to cope with winter feed bills and the additional cost of housing livestock.

The charity, which helps farming families in need, reports a 47% increase in the amount of money it paid out last year. It issued grants worth £2.22m to 1,248 farmers, farm workers and their dependants during 2018.


Thousands of poorest pensioners will lose out, government reveals

Astounding, ostensibly callous and likely to have a massive impact on a number of rural pensioners. This story tells us:

The government has revealed that 60,000 of the least well-off pensioners with partners of working age are set to lose thousands of pounds a year as a result of benefit changes designed to save £1bn over the next five years.

A rule change coming into force on 15 May means that pensioners who have partners under the state retirement age of 65 will no longer be able to claim for pension credit, a means-tested top-up for older people on very low incomes.

The change means pensioners claiming after that date must sign up to the much less generous universal credit, a move which will leave the couple potentially £7,000 a year worse off.

Caroline Abrahams, charity director at Age UK, called the move an “ill thought-out decision” that would potentially devastate the incomes of poorer older people.

Analysts say the scale of the losses faced by couples could put pressure on relationships, and may persuade them that they cannot afford to marry or move in together. Some may consider splitting up to try to avoid the loss.

The change, which was slipped out in January on the evening of a Brexit vote, was condemned by charities as a stealth cut which would drive up pensioner poverty, although at the time there were no details of how many people would be affected.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed in an analysis published on Thursday that the rule change will affect 15,000 couples this year, rising to 60,000 in 2023-24. Estimated savings will be £45m this year, rising to £385m by 2023-24, amounting to cumulative savings of £1.1bn.


British mackerel has sustainable status stripped after years of overfishing

This has to be bad news for the UK fishing industry. The story tells us:

Britain’s most valuable fish stock has lost its sustainable status after overfishing has driven mackerel stocks to the brink of collapse.

As of this weekend, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has warned people against purchasing mackerel caught in the North East Atlantic, which will no longer bear its “blue label”.

The body charged with assessing the health of wild fisheries said its decision came after stocks had crashed due in part to quotas that exceeded the best scientific advice. 

Accounting for around a third of the seafood landed in the UK, the mackerel fishery is worth over £200m.

“This news will be a disappointment for the fishermen as well as for mackerel loving consumers,” said Camiel Derichs, Europe director for the MSC.

“However, factors including declining stocks, quotas set above new scientific advice and poor recruitment have combined to mean that the fisheries no longer meet the MSC’s requirements.”

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) states that mackerel populations have been in freefall since 2011, dropping from a high of 4.79 million tonnes to 2.75 million tonnes last year.

Council experts advised that current catches must be cut by over two thirds to allow the stock to recover to a sustainable level over the next two years.


Chris Packham accuses property developer of setting 'wildlife traps'

On TV Chris Packham seems quite moderate, but when roused by planning related controversy in my own backyard he’s emotively vocal as this article reveals:

Chris Packham, the television presenter and naturalist, has accused a property developer of setting “wildlife traps” after it covered a hedgerow in netting on a site earmarked for 40 new homes.

The conservationist has joined local campaigners in condemning a move by Partner Construction to prevent birds nesting on rural land in Lincolnshire where the company has applied to build a new housing estate.

Pictures and a video have been posted online of the netting apparently trapping birds in what they called an “unnecessary attack on the natural world”.

The netting was set up on a long stretch of hedgerow in an attempt to prevent birds nesting, and consequently potentially halting until Autumn any construction.

He wrote: “It’s so utterly abhorrent that I feel sick. What has become of the agencies who should protect life from this? Is everything spent?”

He added that “if I were there I would rip those nets down. Do it.”

A mystery activist has now removed some of the netting, with the developers claiming whoever vandalised the mesh is responsible for any birds becoming trapped.

Campaigners are angry that the netting was installed before North Lincolnshire Council has ruled on whether the development should even go ahead.


HS2 plans to sign sweetheart wind farm deals would breach procurement rules, Tory peer warns

I think the on shore wind farm subsidy regime has historically little to commend it and this article raises my suspicions further. It tells us:

Proposals to power High Speed 2 using wind farms would breach official procurement rules, a Tory peer has warned ministers.

Viscount Ridley, the science writer and former businessman, claimed that a plan drawn up on behalf of the government owned-body building the railway involved a “hidden subsidy” that would ultimately be passed onto taxpayers or added to the cost of tickets.

The peer’s intervention came after The Sunday Telegraph revealed how a strategy document commissioned by the Government proposed powering the controversial rail line using onshore wind farms spanning the equivalent of 19,000 football fields.

The strategy set out prices that would be pre-agreed with energy firms, at rates...


And Finally

‘Britain’s loneliest dog’ Hector finally finds home

A heart warming tale of canine love to finish off this week’s Hinterland – this story tells us:

A lurcher dubbed "Britain's loneliest dog" has finally found a "forever" home.

Two-year-old Hector had been in a shelter since he was rescued by the RSPCA over welfare concerns in 2017.

Hundreds of people from all over the world offered to re-home him after a campaign by Little Valley Animal Shelter in Exeter, Devon, went viral. 

The lonely lurcher, who spent more than 500 days at the shelter, had been its longest-staying resident. 

"We couldn't be happier for him," the shelter said. "We can't stop smiling."


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.



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