Hinterland - 1 February 2021

In this edition of Hinterland, don’t think the implications of Brexit have gone away, some interesting insights as to who is moving where in rural settings, rural crime, delays to environmental thinking, flooding and mental health and finally,  the world viewed through a goat flavoured virtual lens

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Brexit: British business leaders warn of 'substantial difficulties' at UK ports

Watch this space. Just because the supermarkets are full(ish) at the moment I fear the rubber is going to hit the road in a very negative way quite soon, very possibly exacerbated into intransigence by the virus war. I also suspect it’s those businesses involved in manufacturing and food and drink which will be hit hardest and which as any aficionado of rural economies knows are most heavily represented in rural areas. This story tells us:

The leaders of Britain’s five largest business groups have warned the government that firms face “substantial difficulties” at UK ports since Brexit, with the prospect of a “significant loss of business” if the situation is allowed to continue.

Following a round table meeting on Thursday evening with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, a letter was issued by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce, the manufacturers’ group Make UK, the Federation of Small Businesses and the Institute of Directors.

The letter said the government needed to act quickly to overcome “the sizeable obstacles” faced by exporters.

With hold-ups at UK ports worsening and many lorries making return journeys empty following difficulties obtaining customs certificates, the business groups said ministers needed to act quickly.

The letter was published after Gove appeared to play down the significance of the difficulties faced by businesses struggling to overcome customs barriers, and what they described as a lack of coherent advice from government departments about new EU trading rules following Brexit.

Gove said after the meeting, which the business leaders believed was private, it is understood, that “some businesses are facing challenges with specific aspects of our new trading relationship with the EU”.

He added: “I want to let them know that we will pull out all the stops to help them adjust.”

The business groups said: “A range of problems were discussed, including the substantial difficulties faced by firms adapting to the new customs processes, sizeable obstacles to moving goods through the Dover-Calais route and the shortage of informed advice from both government and specialist advisers alongside a number of others.”

They warned that grace periods agreed with the EU would expire over the next two months at a time when cross-border traffic, which is usually low in January, was due to grow. Unless measures were put in place to smooth customs procedures, the situation would deteriorate, they said.


Brits in rural areas more likely to move home than city dwellers

This story gives the lie to the simplistic assumption that the virus is just driving people to want to move to rural settings. Rather, what it shows is that the bigger drive to move arises in rural communities where people struggle to access key services. It tells us:

More than two fifths (43%) of UK adults are considering moving to a different type of setting, as a result of the events of 2020.

But while many experts have predicted an exodus to the country, as city dwellers spend more time working from home, a new study from Aviva reveals a more complicated picture.

A survey of 6,000 people suggests those living in rural or semi-rural locations are actually more likely to want to move to different surroundings than those living in urban and sub-urban areas. More than half of UK adults living in rural (52%) and semi-rural (53%) locations would like a change of scene, a higher proportion than those dwelling in suburban or urban places (39% in both cases).

While the grass may be greener for some in the countryside, many residents of rural and semi-rural locations show a desire to move to places with more facilities. Nearly a third of people (31%) in a rural dwelling wish to move to a semi-rural setting, while almost the same proportion (30%) of people in semi-rural properties hope to move to a suburban location.

When it comes to why people wish to live in a certain location, reasons differ according to the new setting. People are more likely to believe rural (42%) and semi-rural (36%) locations would provide a better quality of life for their family/children. Similarly, more people believe there will be health benefits due to lower pollution in rural (37%) and semi-rural (28%) locations.

Compared to all other types of setting, urban locations are more likely to be chosen for a better social life (23%) facilities (22%), and transport links (22%).

A relatively small number of people say they plan to move because they could work from home and wouldn’t need to commute as often. This is fairly consistent at around 15% across all location types.


Fury as long-awaited UK environment bill is delayed for third time

I thought we had been waiting a long time for action in relation to this and it seems its slipping further onto the back burner…

The government has delayed the long-awaited environment bill, which redraws rules after the UK’s departure from the EU, provoking fury from campaigners who said it would harm action on air pollution and water quality, as well as other key issues. The proposed legislation would be the biggest shake-up of green regulation in decades.

Ministers said the delay, which means the flagship bill is unlikely to pass before the autumn, was necessary because dealing with the Covid-19 crisis left too little parliamentary time for debate. Trying to continue with the original timetable would have risked the bill falling and having to return to square one of the parliamentary process.

Rebecca Pow, minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “We remain fully committed to the environment bill as a key part of delivering the government’s manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on earth. Carrying over the bill to the next session [of parliament] does not diminish our ambition for our environment in any way.”


Livestock worth £2.3m stolen from UK farms in 2020

Some interesting revelations here! This article tells us:

New figures reveal that farm animals worth an estimated £2.3m were stolen from UK farms in 2020, making it one of the most costliest crimes for farmers.

Although the pandemic saw the cost of rustling decrease by a quarter, in the South West region the cost of animals stolen rose by over a third to an estimated £320,000.

Overall, livestock rustling remains one of the most costly crimes for British farmers after vehicle and machinery theft.

The Midlands saw a sharp fall of 44% in 2020 following the prosecution of thieves, who, in 2019, slaughtered large numbers sheep in Northamptonshire.

Rebecca Davidson, rural affairs specialist at NFU Mutual said tougher police enforcement seemed to have taken effect last year.

“Last year’s overall fall is encouraging news to an industry which has worked hard through the pandemic to keep the nation fed.

“The coronavirus restrictions may have also deterred criminals who would have been easier to detect during lockdown."

However, she said the latest figures from NFU Mutual’s claims were 'not a reason for complacency', and farmers remained 'deeply concerned' that the crime continued, even at a time of crisis.

"Modern rustling is a large-scale, organised crime causing suffering to animals, adding financial pressures to farmers and putting public health at risk," Ms Davidson added.

“We are worried that when movement restrictions ease there could be a resurgence as thieves target the countryside again.

"We are urging farmers to remain vigilant and check stock regularly.”

Rustling has always been an aspect of farming, but ten years ago NFU Mutual would rarely see claims of more than a dozen sheep taken at a time.

The insurer now regularly receives reports of thirty to a hundred sheep being taken in a single raid.


Warning over mental health effects of floods in the UK

We have long recognised the importance of the work of Support in Mind Scotland and feel there is a strong case for a national approach to the challenges of rural mental health in England. I am pleased this article raises the issues in the context of one key driver of stress in rural settings – flooding. It tells us:

Substantial work still needs to be done to protect houses from flood damage and to ensure homes do not dangerously overheat in summer as climate change intensifies storms and heatwaves in the UK. That is the key message from one of the country’s leading experts on climate change adaptation.

Speaking on the eve of the Climate Adaptation Summit, which opens tomorrow in the Netherlands, Julia King told the Observer that although some improvements had been made to Britain’s preparations for dealing with global heating, some important protection was still lacking.

“We have to do more to make houses more resilient to flood waters and we also have to deal with the issue of properties becoming worryingly overheated in summer,” said King, who is a member of the UK Committee on Climate Change (CCC). “These issues need to be addressed as key priorities as global warming continues.”

“Not enough has been done to ensure people get help in dealing with this sort of thing,” King added. “The impact on mental health of having your home flooded is directly related to the extent of the damage caused, and the time it takes to repair it. So this needs to be addressed directly.”


And Finally

Farm makes £50,000 after diversifying into goat Zoom calls

Whoever said farming was out of date, behind the times of lacked innovation needs to read this – fabulous and very funny…..

A farm in Lancashire has added a new source of income by allowing the public to book a goat to join in on their lockdown video calls.

Since taking over Cronkshaw Fold Farm from her mother in 2016, Dot McCarthy has diversified the farm into a sustainable business, including educational trips, weddings and accommodation.

But when lockdown made many of these income streams impossible, she adapted her business model from bricks and mortar to 'bricks and clicks' - a term for businesses that combine in-person and online services.

“We started virtual activity videos with our local community,” said Dot. One activity involved communicating through mirrors and flashes of sunlight to spell out letters of the alphabet.

“We taught local kids to mirror signal the word PIES - we love pies in Lancashire - and as we’re up on a hill overlooking the valley, we were able to watch all their mirror signals from people’s houses.

Cronkshaw Fold Farm also received unexpected publicity from Dot’s second digital offering: charging £5 to book a goat to join a Zoom call.

“This started as a joke,” she said. “I came up with the idea, told my employee Emma and we agreed it was completely wacky and we should prioritise other money making ideas.

"I put it on the website that evening anyway along with Emma’s email address for bookings. When I woke up, I had loads of missed calls from Emma saying she’d been inundated with emails and couldn’t keep up with the demand for goat calls.”

The success of Dot’s venture has led to newspaper articles, podcast features and an interview on ITV’s This Morning.

“We’ve had everyone from the European management team of Facebook, to NHS staff in need of a cheer up, to virtual church services - the vicars always seem to choose Mary the goat and I am pleased to say we have made over 50k so far,” she said.

When Dot wasn’t busy doing Facebook lives and Goat Zoom calls, she was hard at work bagging up manure to sell to local people growing their own fruit and vegetables.

“We made more than £1000 in just a few delivery runs and our part-time farm school teacher picked up lost work hours doing manure admin instead.”


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


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