Chancellor must do more to tackle rampant rural disadvantage, campaigners urge

Hinterland - 19 August 2019

In Hinterland this week - Brexit is beginning to breath down the neck of a number of issues in rural England. The environment is showing through in challenges to our taste for cod and urban anxiety in Bristol. The burgeoning costs of special educational needs provision, an innovative approach to revitalising abandoned shops and we finish with some bouncy fox cubs!

Read on...

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Where did all the cod go? Fishing crisis in the North Sea

This story reminds us that what a number of commentators would see as the fake panacea of Brexit for the UK fishing fleet is not all we have to worry about. It tells us:

North Sea cod stocks were once plentiful but plummeted – and came perilously close to collapse – between the early 1970s and 2006. A “cod recovery plan” sought to restore stocks to sustainable levels by limiting fishing days, decommissioning boats, banning catches in nursery areas and putting larger holes in nets to allow young cod to escape.

In what was seen as a significant achievement, the stock rose fourfold between 2006 and 2017, when the MSC – on whose guidance big retailers and many consumers rely – awarded three fisheries sustainable status. The MSC’s distinctive blue label with a white tick was a huge fillip to the industry.

The UK consumes about 115,000 tonnes of cod each year. Only 15,000 tonnes comes from the North Sea, with the rest imported mainly from the fertile grounds in the Barents Sea and around Norway and Iceland. But the species is of huge symbolic importance to the UK fishing industry, which employs about 24,000 people – more than half of them working in Scotland.

Ices, an international organisation of scientists from countries bordering the North Atlantic, advises governments and the industry on stock levels and the sustainable quotas that can be fished without endangering future stocks.

It sounded a warning last year with its recommended cut in the cod catch of 47%, but this year’s assessment – based on extensive scientific research – warned that levels were dangerously low and another two-thirds reduction was needed.

“It is unclear what the reasons are for this; further work is required to investigate climate change, biological and fisheries effects,” the report said.

Environmental organisations point out that cod has been fished above its maximum sustainable yield in recent years, meaning the fish are taken from the sea faster than they can reproduce.

The species is not breeding as fast as it used to, too many unwanted “juvenile” fish are caught, and the practice of “discarding” – throwing dead fish back into the sea to keep within quotas – continues despite being banned.

Food after oil: how urban farmers are preparing us for a self-sufficient future

This article shows the massive gulf between the urban trendy and those who grow our food for a living. This article tells us

Conway is one of the stars of a food phenomenon that has been developing in Bristol since the early 2010s. Back in 2009, the city council and a sustainability group, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, commissioned a report on what might happen to the city if the world began to run out of oil. One of the most alarming revelations was that the food supply, utterly dependent on cheap oil and gas for growing and transportation, could be severely depleted, which in turn could lead to a breakdown of law and order. In response, the NHS commissioned a report exploring Bristol’s food system in more depth, and the council helped set up a food policy council to produce a plan based on its findings.

One aim of that plan was “to promote the use of good quality land in and around Bristol for food production”. A number of support organisations – horticulturalists, conservationists and a Bristol chapter of the Incredible Edible “guerilla gardening” movement – worked with the policy council on this. At first, the focus was on straightforward ideas such as reviving allotments or encouraging container farms that used hydroponics and artificial lighting. But after a couple of years, the leaders of the initiative began to notice something else happening. More people than they had expected were contacting the organisations with ideas that combined social good and an interest in nature with growing, and these people seemed to have few problems finding volunteers to help with the schemes.

No-deal Brexit dossier shows worst-case scenario - Gove

This article makes me worry on a number of counts about how vulnerable rural England, host to ports and freight corridors, is to a no deal brexit. It tells us:

A leaked cross-government study warning of the impact of a no-deal Brexit outlines a "worst-case scenario", cabinet minister Michael Gove has said.

Details from the dossier warn of food and medicine shortages if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Mr Gove, who is responsible for no deal preparation, said "very significant steps" had been taken to boost Brexit planning since Boris Johnson became PM.

The leak comes as Mr Johnson is to meet European leaders later this week.

The prime minister will insist there must be a new Brexit deal when he holds talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

According to Operation Yellowhammer, the dossier leaked to the Sunday Times, the UK could face months of disruption at its ports after a no-deal Brexit.

And plans to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic are unlikely to prove sustainable, it adds.

The dossier says leaving the EU without a deal could lead to:

Fresh food becoming less available and prices rising

A hard Irish border after plans to avoid checks fail, sparking protests

Fuel becoming less available and 2,000 jobs being lost if the government sets petrol import tariffs to 0%, potentially causing two oil refineries to close

UK patients having to wait longer for medicines, including insulin and flu vaccines

A rise in public disorder and community tensions resulting from a shortage of food and drugs

Passengers being delayed at EU airports, Eurotunnel and Dover

Freight disruption at ports lasting up to three months, caused by customs checks, before traffic flow improves to 50-70% of the current rate

Special educational needs crisis deepens as councils bust their budgets

We all know that the adult social care bill is unsustainable let's not take our eyes off the "double whammy" ball in this article

The funding crisis in special needs education is deepening, with council overspends on support for children with conditions including autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder rising by 30% in just a year, the Observer can reveal.

Figures sourced under the Freedom of Information Act from 118 of the 151 local authorities in England show that councils are expecting to overspend their high needs block budgets by £288m in 2019-20 – up from £232m in 2018-19. When money raided from mainstream schools budgets is included, however, these figures rise to £315m in 2018-19 and nearly £410m this year – a rise of almost 30% in the space of 12 months.

The high needs block is government funding that supports children with higher cost needs. Children with moderate special needs are funded via mainstream schools budgets.

Labour to give councils power to seize boarded-up shops

I've worked in a number of local authorities where town centre's are blighted by the scourge of absentee landlords. On the basis of which I think this is a jolly fine policy idea!

Labour will allow councils to seize abandoned shops to give them a new lease of life as cooperatives or community centres, a policy designed to revive struggling high streets.

Jeremy Corbyn is expected to announce the shake-up on a visit to a high street in Bolton on Saturday, calling the sight of boarded-up shops a “symptom of economic decay” which is lowering living standards.

Under the Labour proposals, local authorities could offer properties which had been vacant for 12 months to startups, cooperative businesses and community projects.

The policy was prompted by a study by the Local Data Company which found more than 10% of town centre shops were empty. About 29,000 retail units are estimated to have been left empty for at least a year, according to the study, which found that the high-street vacancy rate rose last year to 11.5% and that 4.8% of vacant space on high streets had been vacant for more than two years. In shopping centres, that number rose to 5.8%.

And Finally

Fox cubs bounce on trampoline in Cardiff garden

Superb video, the urban focus is now clearly a savvy genus of its own .....

These fox cubs were caught on camera bouncing around on a family's trampoline.

Martin Greenhalgh, 51, from Cardiff, had a security alert on his CCTV after the motion-sensor cameras picked up movement in his back garden.

He said he was stunned when he saw the four cubs jumping playfully.

"I looked at the camera and it was just amazing to see them there in the middle of the night,” he said.

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


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