Hinterland - 13 December 2021

In Hinterland this week: the sad challenge of cyclists on rural roads, the impact of rural policy on the landscape of rural England, fly tipping and some very depression side effects of the pandemic. Read on...

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Cyclist deaths soar on rural roads in England

This is a depressing story and serves to remind us of how difficult a mix cyclists and rural drivers are. Lest anyone think the dangerous relationship between cyclists and other road users is only an urban phenomena this story gives us wider cause for thought. It tells us….

The coronavirus lockdowns created a cycling boom in England, with record numbers of people out on their bikes to get exercise and fresh air. 

However, official data from the Department of Transport also shows that many more cyclists died on rural roads in 2020 than in the previous two years. 

89 people lost their lives on countryside roads last year - up by almost 50% from 60 fatalities in 2019. 

In 2018, 48 cyclists were killed on rural roads.

This was despite fewer vehicles using rural routes, and a marked drop in the amount of traffic during the pandemic restrictions. 

NFU Mutual - the specialist rural insurer - is launching a campaign designed to improve the safety of those using rural roads.

Overall, including car drivers, horse riders, and pedestrians, two-thirds more people, just over 3,100, were killed using roads in the countryside than roads in the cities.

Between 2018 and 2020, there were 3,115 fatalities on rural roads in England, and 1,880 on urban ones. During the same two-year period, almost 30,000 people were seriously injured on rural roads.

As the temperature drops and the dark takes hold, NFU Mutual has joined forces with British Cycling and the British Horse Society to launch a campaign called Respect Rural Roads, urging those travelling around the countryside to take more care.


New plan to pay farmers who protect winter soil

This story shows how the landscape will change as a consequence of rural policy as it evolves over the next 3-5 years it tells us:

The empty brown fields of England's winter countryside could be transformed under government plans for farming.

Cold naked acres will in future be clothed in vegetation as farmers are paid for sowing plants that bind the soil together.

The aim is to hold precious topsoil on the land, instead of seeing it washed into rivers during heavy rainfall.

But critics say it is not ambitious enough to reverse the UK's nature crisis.

The changes are being introduced as part of a broad post-Brexit reform of the subsidies paid to farmers.

Under the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, farmers received taxpayers' cash proportional to the amount of land they owned - the richer the farmer, the bigger the subsidy.


Farmers fear Defra will not deliver on post-Brexit support, says CLA head

Small upland farmers beware – the whole policy mood music arising from the roll out of the post EU rural land based agenda points towards difficult times for smaller and livestock orientated producers going forward. This story tells us:

Farmers are anxiously awaiting further detail from the government on imminent changes to their subsidy payments, with many reluctant to trust the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to manage the transition, the leader of one of the UK’s biggest farming organisations has said.

“Quite a few have said to me: ‘Well, we’re not at all clear what Defra is doing,’” Mark Tufnell, the recently installed president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), told the Guardian. “[They say:] ‘We don’t think that Defra know what they’re doing,’ and ask me: ‘What do you know?’”

The CLA represents about 28,000 farmers and owners of rural businesses in England and Wales, including some of the biggest landowners and a large number of smaller ones, with about 18,000 members farming less than 300 acres. Members are hoping for more details of post-Brexit support for farmers at the organisation’s conference on Thursday, where the environment secretary, George Eustice, will set out what support farmers can expect when their basic farm payments are cut by between 5% and 25% this year before being phased out entirely over the next six years.


Fly-tipping in England increases during Covid pandemic

This story rings very true in terms of my experience of driving around rural Lincolnshire. It reveals one very depressing side effect of the pandemic.

Fly-tipping incidents in England increased last year, with household waste accounting for by far the biggest proportion of the problem, which has been worsened by the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

From March 2020 to March 2021 in England, 1.13m fly-tipping incidents were dealt with by local authorities, an increase of 16% on the 980,000 reported in the previous year, according to data released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on Wednesday. Higher numbers of incidents were reached in 2007-09, but the way the data is collated has changed, so direct comparisons with years before 2018 are not possible.

Despite the increase in numbers, the number of enforcement actions went down over the period, with only 456,000 actions taken, compared with 474,000 in the year 2019-2020.


Doctors report 13,000 cancelled operations in UK over two months

This is a terrible and enduring backwash from the pandemic which is set to be made much worse by omicron. This story tells us:

UK hospitals have cancelled at least 13,000 operations over the last two months as they struggle to cope with record demand for NHS care and people sick with Covid-19.

Figures collected by A&E doctors showed that 13,061 planned surgeries had to be called off during October and November because of shortages of beds and staff.

However, the cancellations occurred at just 40 of the several hundred NHS hospitals across the four home nations, so those 13,061 are likely to be a major underestimate of the scale of the problem.

Dr Adrian Boyle, a vice-president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM), which published the data, said the cancellations represented “a stark warning for the months ahead”.


And Finally

Woodland walks save UK £185m a year in mental health costs, report finds

In these difficult times something to cheers us all up. This story tells us:

Walks taken by people in UK woodlands save £185m a year in mental health costs, according to a report.

Spending time in nature is known to boost mental health, but the report by Forest Research is the first to estimate the amount that woodlands save the NHS through fewer GP visits and prescriptions, reduced hospital and social service care, and the costs of lost days of work. The research also calculated that street trees in towns and cities cut an additional £16m a year from antidepressant costs.

The researchers believe the true savings are likely to be significantly higher. The report shows the importance of woodlands, they said, which the government is already aiming to expand to tackle the climate and wildlife crises.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the prevalence of mental illness, and the NHS was already increasing its spending on treatments. This includes green social prescribing, where activities including nature visits are used to help sufferers. In polling by Forest Research, more than 90% of respondents said woodlands were important to them in reducing stress.


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


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