Hinterland - 16 September 2019

In Hinterland this week - notwithstanding portents of future doom this week Hinterland  profiles some really dynamic examples of world class farming innovation; it seeks to debunk the old emotive greenbelt chestnut, it celebrates the role of the bus in rural life, it welcomes small town health innovation, it bemoans a growing lack of business investment and it says hooray for the return of the white stork!! Read on...

*         *          *

Five ways UK farmers are tackling climate change

This fascinating article helps explain how the UK is home to some of the most innovative and environmentally savvy farming practices in the world. It tells us:

Farmers are on the front line of climate change - vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall, as well as increasingly frequent extreme weather events.

They also face criticism, in particular over greenhouse gas emissions from the meat and dairy industry, with calls for a move to a more plant-based diet.

Agriculture is currently responsible for about 9% of the UK's greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from methane.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU), which represents 55,000 UK farmers, has set a target of net-zero emissions in British farming by 2040.

That is not enough for some environmentalists, who say a comprehensive overhaul of farming practices and a move to less intensive production is long overdue.

But some new and surprising changes are happening on the UK's farms.

  1. Scientists in Wiltshire are part of a growing group of experts around the world developing small battery-powered robots that could drastically cut tractor use.
  2. Drones and tractor-mounted sensors are also being used to help farmers work out the exact patterns of moisture, weeds and pests.
  3. Many environmental campaigners also believe applying new technology without fundamental change to intensive farming practices is not enough.

Nick Rau, of Friends of the Earth, says: "New technology is helpful - but simple, low-tech solutions, looking at whole farms over a number of seasons have been grossly neglected. "Nick believes there's huge potential in a range of solutions and points, in particular, to tree planting.

  1. Farmers who keep their animals outdoors for longer in the UK can help to cut emissions thousands of miles away.
  2. Cutting methane emissions. Cows and sheep produce methane in their digestive systems. Methane produces 21 times as much warming in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Whilst carbon dioxide is the biggest concern for many other industries, in farming methane is a major worry.


Green belt to be destroyed for homes which wont be needed

As a preface to this article just remember the amount of green belt designated has increased by 100% over the last 20 years and that if England was a football pitch every building within it would struggle to fill one six yard box. Now read on….

Swathes of green belt in the heart of England have been earmarked for new homes for people who may never exist, in a trend fuelled by the drive to double the number built annually nationwide, campaigners have warned.

Fields bordering ancient woodlands are among more than a dozen sites, around Coventry, which have been released from anti-sprawl protections. They will be ploughed up to build more than 11,000 new homes based on population growth predictions that demographers warn are likely to be over-inflated.

The city council believes it needs land to accommodate 42,400 new homes in the next 12 years, based on population predictions by the government’s Office of National Statistics (ONS), which predict the population will surge by almost a third between the last census, in 2011, and 2031. Green belt in neighbouring areas, including Warwickshire, Nuneaton and Rugby, has also been earmarked for housing to help Coventry meet its target.

Analysis presented at the British Society of Population Studies, in Cardiff, on Tuesday suggested homes earmarked for open fields were being planned for “ghosts”, because there is no wider evidence of the sharp predicted population growth. Just 15,000 new homes were needed, requiring the loss of far less green space.


UK bus firms vow to buy only ultra-low or zero-emission vehicles from 2025

I welcome the reference to the importance of rural economies and rural communities which buses can make in this article. It tells us:

Bus operators have pledged to buy only ultra-low or zero-emission vehicles from 2025 as they called on the government to outline a national strategy to encourage more people to use buses.

The Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents most bus operators in the UK including the big five firms – Arriva, FirstGroup, Go Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach – said it wanted lower fares for jobseekers and apprentices, smart ticketing and innovative, sustainable solutions for rural areas, where bus services have been hit particularly hard.

While bus travel remains the most popular form of public transport, passenger numbers in Britain have flatlined after declining central funding led to fewer services and higher fares.

The CPT said that with government help, the bus industry could help to address the climate crisis and was targeting 1bn more passenger journeys by bus by 2030. About 4.4bn journeys a year are made by bus in Britain.

Graham Vidler, the CPT chief executive said: “Buses are already the cleanest form of road transport and have a crucial role to play in tackling environmental issues and helping to meet important targets on improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions.

“With the right support from government to make the transition, the bus industry will buy only ultra-low or zero-emission buses by 2025, reducing CO2 emissions by 500,000 tonnes a year.”

On average, more than 2 million people a day travel to work by bus, and 1 million more to school or college.


Mind over natter: the small town with a happiness plan

Now here’s an inspirational story about how local action can offer a potent antidote to some of the health challenges we face through a place based approach. This article tells us:

“A minister, a pub landlord and a mayor … it sounds like the start of a really bad joke, doesn’t it?”

The Rev Matt Finch laughs as he recalls the origins of a novel attempt to create a paragon of mental health in the small Cambridgeshire parish of St Ives. The three men – who walked not into a bar but a coffee shop – are trying to bring a smile back to the face of a community that has suffered its share of recent blows.

As a collective, they hope their string of initiatives to reach people in their darkest hour could establish St Ives as a model town for others to emulate, in an age of growing mental discomfort.

An old market town around 12 miles north-west of Cambridge – population 16,384, according to the 2011 census – St Ives is venerable enough to feature in the Domesday Book. Back then it was known as Slepe. There have been some rude awakenings of late.


Britain facing most prolonged investment slump in 17 years

Rural businesses are often at the bottom of the pile when it comes to investment so this article provides little scope for cheer. It tells us:

Brexit uncertainty and a global economic slowdown amid the US-China trade war has set Britain on course for the most prolonged slump in business investment in 17 years, according to the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).

Setting Britain on course for weaker economic growth in future, the lobby group said business spending in the UK was due to decline by 1.5% in 2019 and by 0.1% next year as companies put their investment plans on ice amid the global political turmoil.

Paving the way for the longest period of annual declines in business investment since the turn of the millennium – when the dotcom bubble burst to drag down investment around the world – the BCC said investment in the UK was due to fall for three years in a row.


And Finally

White storks spread across England for first time in 600 years as rewilding project tackles biodiversity crisis

A project aimed at giving white storks a new lease of life in the UK has seen the birds take flight and spread across the south of England for the first time in hundreds of years.

Two dozen young white storks were released from Knepp in West Sussexin August, the first steps towards recovering a species believed to have been lost to the UK more than 600 years ago due to hunting and the loss of habitats caused by farming and land management.

Now the birds, eight of which carry GPS trackers, have been spotted across the south of England – including Cornwall’s Hayle Estuary more than 350km away.


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.