Hinterland - 23 March 2020

Only one story line in Hinterland this week – well almost, I did find a couple of other things worthy of mention but I can’t help seeing them through a “corona-lens”. Roll on the late summer when (I hope my optimism wont be too misplaced) things might start looking a bit more positive. Read on…

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Farmers call for 'land army' to sustain UK food production during coronavirus crisis

I fear a number of impacts from this pandemic will flow through the system not immediately but as a second wave in a few months. One may well be after the harvest, when I suspect the cost of food might just rocket, as this article presages. It tells us:

Farming leaders have raised concerns about a lack of available labour because of the coronavirus, with one calling for a “land army” to be recruited from people put out of work by the crisis.

Restrictions in place because of the virus are likely to prevent many of the 60,000 seasonal labourers who come to the UK each year to work on farms from travelling, and the supply of domestic workers is also expected to be reduced.

Farmers in many parts of the country are already struggling after months of severe floods, and the supply of seasonal workers was already in doubt because of Brexit.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA), which represents more than 30,000 landowners and rural firms, estimates that the shortage of workers could hit 80,000 at a crucial time and leave crops rotting in the fields.


Affluent Londoners flee city for rural idylls amid fears of lockdown

Rural England has always been the ultimate touchstone for the wealthy. This therefore leaves me with little in the way of surprises about such folks flocking to the country. As a number of articles to follow indicate they are currently not very welcome. This story tells us:

The rural luxury rental market has "gone mad" as affluent Londoners scramble to escape the capital, willing to pay vastly inflated sums to secure the best properties.

Holiday letting companies are struggling to keep up with a surge in enquiries for coastal or countryside properties as city-dwellers move to escape the crowds and self-isolate "comfortably" with plenty of space.

Experts reported frenetic activity in the past few days as families desperately try to secure desirable properties ahead of a possible lockdown.

The most popular locations for those seeking to escape the capital, as well as those who have had forthcoming skiing and Easter breaks cancelled, include the Cotswolds, Norfolk, Devon and Cornwall and the Lake District....


Crime epidemic: Our historical rural churches are facing a raft of threats

Just to prove that life goes on, but not always in a good way, this article reminds us of one unpleasant aspect of rural life. I think the churches across the land will see an upsurge in visitors, even though there will be no services for them to experience.

This month a 300-year-old bell was stolen from the tiny 15th-century Bremilham Church, Wiltshire. The 12ft-sq Grade II-listed chapel, hidden away in a farmyard, was targeted despite being the smallest in the country still in use. 

Rural churches are facing a crime epidemic. Recent figures from Historic England show nearly half have fallen victim to pilfering, with the nationwide repair bill running into millions. 

As the price of scrap metal has soared, professional gangs have moved in, according to the National Crime Agency, sometimes using sophisticated technology, including drones, to plan heists and getaways. The NCA also reports offenders becoming more violent. Burglars recently smashed up 900-year-old Pendock Old Church in Worcs, including the church’s organ once played by composer Sir Edward Elgar. 

Some 37 churches a month have valuable lead ripped from their roofs. 

In one example, 20 tons of lead was removed from the Grade I-listed All Saints’ in Houghton Conquest, Bedfordshire, costing £400,000 to replace. Another Wiltshire church, St Peter’s in Stourton which dates to 1290, had its roof stolen a second time after the local community had raised £160,000 to restore it. 

The Church Conservation Trust says raids on its at-risk properties have soared by 75 percent. It’s not just the roofs either. Historic England says thieves are taking guttering, downpipes and even lightning conductors, as well as stone walling and paving. 


UK MPs propose food standards amendment to Ag Bill

Whilst we are corona obsessed this article about other aspects of the life made me think more broadly about Brexit, remember that? Surely we wont be able to carry on with that to the timetable suggested….

A parliamentary committee in the United Kingdom has put forward an amendment to the Agriculture Bill to protect food standards.

Members of the cross-party Environment Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee made the move after a hearing with representatives from the agriculture, animal welfare and trade sectors this week.

Members of Parliament (MPs) heard from Emily Rees from Trade Strategies, James West of Compassion in World Farming and Nick von Westenholz from the National Farmers’ Union on how the U.K. can ensure imports under new trade agreements are produced to the animal welfare and environmental standards expected by the public.

The amendment will ensure food imported as part of future trade deals meets or exceeds British standards on production, animal welfare and the environment.

The government has previously said the U.K. will not compromise on its standards of food safety and animal welfare in future trade agreements.


Scottish government 'furious' at travellers to Highlands and Islands

I fully understand this but we all know why people want to run away to somewhere beautiful and isolated in these troubled times. For Scotland I think you could read any number of holiday resorts. These are very dull times for social creatures. This story tells us:

The Scottish government has urged people to stop travelling to the Highlands and Islands in a bid to avoid coronavirus, following reports of an influx of self-isolators and people in camper vans travelling to the area in recent days.

In a strongly worded statement issued on Saturday night, Holyrood’s rural economy and tourism secretary, Fergus Ewing, described himself as “furious” at such irresponsible behaviour and warned that he would discuss with ferry operators and other agencies whether further restrictive measures were needed to halt the inundation.

Ewing, the MSP for Inverness and Nairn, said: “I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highland and Islands. This has to stop now. Let me be crystal clear – people should not be travelling to rural and island communities, full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel.”

He added: “Panic buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihoods of rural shops and potentially puts unwanted pressure on NHS services in our rural communities. The Scottish government’s advice is that essential travel only should be undertaken.”


And Finally

'Disaster waiting to happen': visitors flock to Skegness

I normally end on a jolly (there is a link there for anyone who knows Skegness) note, but on this occasion I wanted to draw attention to the actions of those unthinking people who are providing a short term boost but long term disaster for our seasonal seaside resorts. I know how important a good summer season is for the traders in Skegness and this behaviour will push everything way back removing any prospect of things returning to at least vaguely normal for the main season.  This story tells us:

A dentist has warned of a “disaster waiting to happen” as thousands of people flocked to his seaside town in spite of official guidance to stay at home to curb the spread of coronavirus. Hundreds of thousands of people were reported to have visited Skegness, in Lincolnshire, on Saturday, flouting the advice to maintain “social distancing”.

Marc Jones, Lincolnshire’s police and crime commissioner, has called for the town’s caravan sites and arcades to be closed, “and quickly”.

In a video that has been viewed almost 25,000 times, Skegness dentist Dr Mitchell Clark also urged local businesses to shutter their shops and called for caravan parks to be closed.

Clark, who voluntarily closed his dental studio last Tuesday, said he was “appalled” to see his town “looking like it does on a busy summer day” as he drove home from walking his dog along a deserted section of beach.

“I view these actions as massively, massively socially irresponsible. I personally think that those involved should be ashamed of themselves,” he said. “Now is the time for us all to come together, to stay at home bar essential trips, to look after people and to do the right thing.”

He warned that the schools being closed and the caravan parks being open would bring an “enormous influx” of visitors into the small town next week.


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


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