Hinterland - 1 March 2021

In Hinterland this week – space age broadband, food “Matters,” crucial shops a levelled up countryside and hopes for a useful budget at the end of a white rainbow…

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Elon Musk’s Starlink gives “amazing” broadband to UK villages

This is a space age story with the prospect of superfast broadband through another medium for rural areas. It tells us:

People in rural areas of the UK have revealed what it is like to use Elon Musk’s satellite broadband service after struggling with poor connectivity.

Musk’s SpaceX company has already launched more than 1,000 satellites into Earth’s orbit as part of its Starlink programme, which aims to beam high-speed internet to those left behind by traditional cable-based providers.

But this is just the beginning of the project – Musk reportedly wants to have tens of thousands of his satellites in space eventually, enabling a seamless connection for all users.

Early testing of Starlink was recently opened up to UK residents desperate for a better connection in certain parts of the country, while other areas have been told to expect coverage arriving sometime in mid to late 2021.

Aaron Wilkes, who lives in Bredgar, Kent, told the PA news agency his household’s fixed line should achieve about 20 megabits per second (Mbps) – significantly less than the 71.8Mbps national average reported by Ofcom for May 2020 – but he said the service often lagged between 0.5 and 1Mbps. Such speeds made it almost impossible to stream Netflix or download large video games.

“The ability to be able to download content so quickly compared to our standard BT line is amazing,” said Wilkes.

However, it does not come cheap, at £439 for the hardware and a monthly cost of £89. Plus, there are planned outages due to the limited number of satellites and the fact that Starlink is still in early testing. But those who have suffered with sluggish internet say it is a price worth paying.


UK must prioritise food security, Minette Batters tells NFU conference

Some hard hitting comments from Minette Batters which usefully put the important role of rural England as the food basket of UK into perspective. This article tells us:

NFU president Minette Batters has urged the government to pay “meaningful” attention to the issue of food security in a speech to the NFU conference.

Batters said the country must “never go back” to being complacent about food production and supply following the panic-buying seen during the initial phase of the Covid-19 crisis.

Ahead of the government’s first assessment of the UK’s food security – due to take place later this year after assessments every three years were enshrined into the Agriculture Act – the NFU president spoke of the perilousness of the situation.

“There is a real risk, a genuine risk that, without care, without attention, we let Britain’s food production slowly erode,” she said. “Which is why it is critical that government monitors our own food security – put simply, the amount of food we produce on our own farms.

“This reporting must be a meaningful document that accurately assesses where we are now and how we are going to make improvements in the future. Let us not forget that before the 1947 Agriculture Act, Britain was just 30% self-sufficient, many in Europe were starving and in the UK food was rationed.”

Batters said the government should also “stop thinking” it could achieve its aims of greening up Britain while simultaneously signing trade deals “which export degradation” to other parts of the globe.


UK’s rural stores providing lifeline for isolated communities

This is an important contribution to the discussion about the sustainability of rural communities. It tells us:

Rural shops are the future and the government needs to support them, the Association of Convenience Stores said at the launch of its Rural Shop Report today (23 February).

The report reveals that throughout 2020, rural consumers have increasingly used their local shop for a wider range of products, and one in five reporting that they depend on their local shop more now than a year ago.

More than a third of the UK convenience sector is made up of rural shops and between them they employ more than 126,000 people.

The report reveals that rural shop owners have invested more than £197m in their businesses over the past year and 21% now provide a home delivery service in their local area.

In addition, the report shows that 79% of rural shops are actively engaged in their communities, with 42% making donations to a local food bank over the past year.

ACS chief executive, James Lowman, said: “Rural shops have been absolutely essential to their communities over the last year, helping customers to shop safely and putting in place new services like home delivery to support those who aren’t able to get out to stores. The message from this year’s report is that rural shops have become even more important during the Covid pandemic, retailers now have even closer relationship with their customers, are employing more people, are taking part in even more community activity, and offer a range of wider and more powerful range of services than ever. These businesses have been crucial at a time when more people are feeling isolated due to the pandemic.”


Level up rural Britain to turbocharge Britain’s green economy

Lots to read of interest for rural communities in this report. I advise you check it out.

An ambitious and revolutionary approach to levelling up rural Britain can create jobs, boost green economic growth, increase exports and improve the wellbeing of the entire nation, a new report from the NFU highlights.

Launched at the NFU’s annual conference today, the report "Levelling up rural Britain" highlights how British farming and rural Britain can provide the solution to many of the challenges the nation faces by driving sustainable food production and pioneering food policy that produces carbon neutral food.

It also showcases how rural Britain is uniquely placed to help the recovery of the nation from COVID-19; delivering physical and mental health through the farmed landscape, which has been a lifeline for so many during lockdown, and supporting the return to whole-food cooking with nutritious, sustainable and affordable British food.

The report says that no one should be disadvantaged by where they live or where their business is based. It highlights several areas where the rural and urban divide continues to grow including:

Broadband and connectivity – poor access to reliable mobile coverage and adequate broadband continues to put rural areas at a disadvantage1, acting as a constraint to capital investment.

Rural crime – farms and rural communities have increasingly become the target of criminals in recent years, with rural crime costing the UK £54.3 million in 20192. Rural areas continue to receive lower levels of police funding, per head of population, than urban areas3.

Planning – The planning system too often prevents farm modernisation, diversification and home building for farm workers. The government’s planning White Paper offers an opportunity to reform and ensure renewal and growth can be sustained in rural areas.

Investment - UK Government should be encouraging more investment, including British investment, into the success story that is British food.


'Red wall' Tory MPs urge Sunak to cut business rates for shops

Hinterland comes out before the budget. However we await the announcement about the Towns Fund (wave 2) with bated breath. I also suspect some controversy around corporation tax and a few other issues which may well hit rural dwellers. This preview tells us:

Rishi Sunak is under increasing pressure from Conservative “red wall” MPs to go beyond existing support for the UK economy in Wednesday’s budget and cut taxes for thousands of retailers.

MPs across the political spectrum are increasingly uneasy that he may introduce income tax rises for middle earners, and the chancellor is facing calls from 45 northern Tories to make “a bold move to reduce business rates”.

The calls come as Sunak prepares for a major test on Wednesday as he seeks to find an extra £43bn to plug a hole in the UK’s post-pandemic finances while allowing the economy to recover from a third lengthy coronavirus lockdown.


And Finally

White rainbow spotted close to M5 motorway near Bristol

I love the landscape around the “near South West” Bristol, Bath, Somerset and Wiltshire. I wonder amongst all the other magical places and things there is a white rabbit might be sitting under this white rainbow…

A rare white rainbow has been photographed close to the M5 motorway near Bristol.

The meteorological phenomenon was spotted by Kieran Argo while out walking in fields near Pill, early on Saturday morning.

Also known as a fogbow, cloud bow or ghost of a rainbow, the arc is formed when sunlight interacts with small water droplets in fog, mist or cloud.

A classical rainbow is created when sunlight interacts with raindrops.

Mr Argo said: "It just appeared. It was a very distinct white arc and looked just like a white rainbow and was similar in size.

"It's the first time I've ever seen one."


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


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