Hinterland - 1 August 2022

In Hinterland this week, lots of charismatic mega-fauna alongside stories about how building and travelling and care costs all remain contentious issues in rural England and more widely for that matter. Read on…

*         *          *

‘I lost £40,000 worth of crops in a field fire’

This story helps illustrate the commercial costs of wildfires. It tells us:

People are being urged to take extra care to avoid causing fires in the countryside during hot weather, with some farmers saying they have lost thousands of pounds worth of crops.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said fires were one of the biggest risks faced by farmers during heatwaves.

One farmer told the BBC he lost around £40,000 worth of crops when one of his fields went up in flames last week.

England has experienced the driest start to the year since 1976.

The hottest ever temperature in the UK was recorded last Tuesday, with thermometers hitting 40.3C in Lincolnshire and more than 30 places reaching temperatures above the previous record.

David Exwood, vice president of the NFU, said even as the weather gets cooler, the lack of rain has increased the risk of field fires.

"There needs to be extreme care when people are out in the countryside because anything can catch fire in this weather," he said.

Andy Barr, who owns an 800-acre farm in Lenham, Kent, had a 50-acre field of barley destroyed by a fire last Saturday.

Although he is hoping to claim on insurance, Mr Barr said the crop was worth around £40,000.


Huge rise in building on prime farmland in England stokes food security fears

I read this article through the filter of remembering someone called Matthew Taylor who wrote a great piece of policy called “Living, Working, Countryside”. It tells us:

The rate at which infrastructure is built on prime farmland in England has risen a hundredfold in the past decade, a report has found, as it calls the country’s food security into question.

Farmland that could grow 250,000 tonnes of vegetables a year has been lost to development, with 300,000 homes built on prime land since 2010.

There was a huge rise in “best and most versatile” agricultural land set aside for housing and industry between 2010 and 2022, up from 60 hectares (148 acres) a year to more than 6,000.

Politicians have been looking at the way land is used in the country, as in order to tackle the climate emergency as well as feed people, farming must become lower-emission, more productive and increase biodiversity.

This means that low-grade farmland, which requires more irrigation and fertiliser, may have to be used for infrastructure instead of prime land, which is more efficient for growing food.

As well as being at risk from development, prime land is also more at risk of flooding, raising deeper questions about food security as Britain experiences more extreme weather events as a result of the climate crisis.

Sixty per cent of grade 1 agricultural land (more than 200,000 hectares) is within flood zone 3, the areas at highest risk of flooding.

CPRE, the countryside charity that published the report, is calling for the government to produce a comprehensive land use strategy, setting out what type of land should be used for which purpose and is asking for a “brownfield first” approach to housebuilding. It is also calling for a firm presumption against development on prime farmland.


Shropshire rural care staff hit by rising fuel costs

I suspect the depressing features of this story are to become a common refrain over the winter of 2022/23. It tells us:

A rural domiciliary carer has said that rising fuel costs are one of the reasons for the lack of staff.

Ash Turner works for New Dawn Care in Craven Arms, south Shropshire, and said the mileage she gets back, only just covers her fuel costs.

About 130,000 new care workers are needed each year in the UK just for the social care workforce to cope with current demands, Age UK said.

"I'm now out of pocket for insurance and wear and tear," Ms Turner said.

"Before the fuel crisis, I would have had money left over if I needed my tyres doing," she added.

Ms Turner said she paid about £100 a week to fill up her car and said on her days off, she thinks "can I go to Shrewsbury, can I do this because I need the fuel for work".

As Ms Turner works in a rural area, she said she often has to drive up hills and down country lanes to reach her clients.

"We've got more problems working in a rural place, and there are loads of pot holes," said the carer.

Rachel Wintel, manager at New Dawn Care, said they can only afford to pay 35p a mile.

"This is because currently local authorities aren't able to pay travel time or mileage in the packets of care that we pick up, as providers we pay mileage and we pay travel time," Ms Wintel said.

The lack of social care staff is also affecting the hospitals and ambulance wait times due to hospital staff "not being able to discharge patients who are medically fit to go home or to go into rest and rehabilitation care," MP for south Shropshire and former health minister Philip Dunne said.


NHS in England facing worst staffing crisis in history, MPs warn

Our parliamentary inquiry into rural health and care revealed that staffing is the greatest blight affecting the rural NHS and is borne out by this story which tells us:

The large number of unfilled NHS job vacancies is posing a serious risk to patient safety, a report by MPs says.

It found England is now short of 12,000 hospital doctors and more than 50,000 nurses and midwives, calling this the worst workforce crisis in NHS history.

It said a reluctance to decisively plug the staffing gap could threaten plans to tackle the Covid treatment backlog.

The government said the workforce is growing and NHS England is drawing up long-term plans to recruit more staff.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who chairs the Commons health and social care select committee that produced the report, said tackling the shortage must be a "top priority" for the new prime minister when they take over in September.

"Persistent understaffing in the NHS poses a serious risk to staff and patient safety, a situation compounded by the absence of a long-term plan by the government to tackle it," he said.


Eurasian beaver to be given legal protection in England

The first of two stories, on in “And Finally” about the reinvention of the British Countryside. This one tells us of the challenges and issues associated with reintroducing species which impact on farms and communities. It tells us:

Beavers are to be legally protected in England from being captured, killed, injured or disturbed without a licence, the government has announced.

From October, it will also be illegal to damage where they breed.

Earlier this week, the Wildlife Trusts had said a delay to the expected announcement put the reintroduction of beavers to the wild "in jeopardy".

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) said a clear management plan was needed to protect farmland before any law change.

Eurasian beavers, which were once widespread but hunted to extinction 400 years ago, have been reintroduced at sites across Britain.

The first wild beavers were released in Scotland in 2009, where the species was granted legal protection 10 years later.

In England, the government has now taken the first legislative step towards securing an amendment to the Conservation of Habitats and Species Regulations 2017 that would protect beavers from October.

That comes as the wider release of beavers into the wild is currently being considered.

Tony Juniper, who chairs Natural England, said: "This is an significant moment for beaver recovery, as we see a return of this species to its natural places in England.

"We are working closely with landowners, environmentalists and other stakeholders to develop practical guidance to ensure these wonderful animals are able to thrive in suitable habitats alongside people across England."


And Finally

Wild bison return to UK for first time in thousands of years

Another heart warming story to add to my collection of charismatic mega-fauna tales:

Early on Monday morning, three gentle giants wandered out of a corral in the Kent countryside to become the first wild bison to roam in Britain for thousands of years.

The aim is for the animals’ natural behaviour to transform a dense commercial pine forest into a vibrant natural woodland. Their taste for bark will kill some trees and their bulk will open up trails, letting light spill on to the forest floor, while their love of rolling around in dust baths will create more open ground. All this should allow new plants, insects, lizards, birds and bats to thrive.

The Wilder Blean project, near Canterbury, is an experiment to see how well the bison can act as natural “ecosystem engineers” and restore wildlife. The UK is one of the most nature-depleted countries in the world.

A more natural woodland should also absorb more carbon, helping to tackle the climate crisis. Global heating was evident as the bison were released, with England in the grip of a heatwave, and the early timing was to allow the bison to reach the shade of the woods before temperatures started to climb.


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


Sign up to our newsletter to receive all the latest news and updates.