Hinterland - 25 November 2019

In Hinterland this week - climate capture, housing, roads, nhs staff, foxhunting and turkeys. Read on for even greater enlightenment...

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Spending on trees in UK falls despite pledges to plant more

Ive just come back from a walk in the woods at Sheringham Park and could therefore not resist starting with this story one of the many landscape issues that links rural and urban places.

Spending on trees and forestry fell by nearly £20m a year between 2015 and 2018, when a purely Conservative government had taken over from the coalition, despite pledges to plant more trees.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said £132m was spent across the UK on trees in 2017-18, down from £151m in 2014-15. The more recent total included £32m in England, with most of the rest spent in Scotland.

The figures equate to less than £1 per person in England and less than £2 per person across the UK, compared with annual spending of about £90 per person on roads, £150pp on fossil fuel subsidies and £135pp in foregone tax from the nine-year freeze on fuel duty.

Subsidising fossil fuel production overseas costs each UK taxpayer more than £7 a year, according to estimates from Friends of the Earth.

Trees became an unexpected electoral battleground over the weekend when the Tories pledged to plant 30m new trees a year and the Liberal Democrats promised 60m.

Emi Murphy, a trees campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “We’re calling for the next government to properly fund the doubling of tree cover.

“This is one of the key solutions to solving the climate crisis but has been shockingly underfunded for years. Faced with the climate emergency and the dire impacts it will bring, we simply cannot afford not to fund trees.”


Rural campaigners say they can help solve the housing crisis

It’s a long time since Living Working Countryside was published now by the visionary Matthew Taylor. I think its time we dug it out and got on with its recommendations which still speak the heart of the debate featured in this article which tells us:

Rural campaigners have argued that the current ‘outdated’ planning system is holding the UK back and say the government should let them help ease the housing crisis

The government’s annual target is to build 300,000 new homes, but fewer than 200,000 homes were built in 2017-18. As the UK’s population is expected to rise by a further 2 million people by 2030, rural campaigners want to help supply the demand for more housing in the UK.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has argued that local authorities have had their planning budgets cut by 55% since 2010, leaving planning departments in crisis.

President of the Country Land and Business Association, Mark Bridgeman, said: “For years politicians have complained about the housing crisis while ignoring the fact that the answer is right under their noses.

“If just ten homes were built in every village the housing crisis in rural communities would be eased considerably. Landowners are wanting to help but are being put off by endless bureaucracy, spiralling costs and a lack of planning officers.

“With such drastic cuts to planning departments we are left with too few planning officers, and those who are in post are stretched to the limit, which can cause significant delays.

“Rather than representing a barrier to growth, the planning system should enable and enhance the delivery of developments in rural communities. The government must decide what it wants the planning system to deliver and then provide adequate resources to achieve those aims.

“A simpler and better-resourced planning system would restore confidence in decisions and encourage more applications to come forward, unlocking the potential of the rural economy.”


Rural roads ‘getting worse’, say drivers

I’m not one to stir up rural/urban division but townies driving on some of the roads we have to use could literally fall into a well of controversy about funding fairness according to this article…

Half of drivers (49%) say the condition of local roads has deteriorated since last year, primarily as a result of potholes and other road-surface problems.

Only one in 10 (11%) believe the roads in their area have improved, with around four-in-10 (40%) saying there was no real change in the past 12 months, according to the 2019 RAC Report on Motoring.

There appears to be a clear town-versus-country divide in terms of road maintenance with drivers based in rural locations being almost 10% more likely to say their local road conditions have worsened in the past 12 months (rural 58% v UK average 49%).

Meanwhile, 25% of London-based motorists say conditions are in fact better this year, against the UK-wide average of 11%.

While potholes and related road-surface problems take most of the blame for worsening conditions, they are not drivers’ sole concerns.

There has been a sharp rise in dissatisfaction about grass and foliage maintenance on local roadsides, with 22% of drivers saying this is one reason conditions are worse.


Calls to scrap ‘immoral’ NHS fee for foreign staff

I’m trying an “election light” approach. However I have featured one story each (this and the next one) which show how different aspects of the underpinning focus of the two largest parties affect rural issues. This is about overseas workers in the UK the next about an “old labour” chestnut….

Boris Johnson’s plans to charge foreign staff who help save British lives £625 a year to use the NHS will worsen its staffing crisis, doctors’ and nurses’ leaders have warned.

They have reacted with dismay over the prime minister’s proposal to increase the so-called health surcharge payable by non-EU staff for the third time in four years and demand it should be scrapped completely. 

The Conservative party announced on Sunday it was going to increase the surcharge from £400 to £625 a year for all non-EU migrant workers and extend it to all EU citizens who migrate to the UK after Brexit.

The fee is payable for each member of a family migrating, meaning nurses from popular recruitment spots such as the Philippines and India who come to Britain with a spouse and two children will have to pay the government £2,500 a year for the privilege of working in the NHS.


Labour to double number of police officers enforcing fox hunting ban

Just to prove that there is more to life than Brexit the return of an old controversy into the political arena – I wonder if the same attention should be given to other rural crimes like fly tipping…?

Labour has unveiled plans to double the number of police officers tasked with enforcing the fox hunting ban and other wildlife crimes.

The party says it will put £4.5m into cracking down on bloodsports like hare coursing, badger baiting and stag hunting.

The number of officers in rural crimes units across the country would rise from 88 to 170 under the proposals in the party’s animal welfare manifesto, which is being released on Tuesday.

Other policies included in the document include closing loopholes in the 2004 Hunting Act that allow in practice illegal hunts to continue.

They would remove exemptions such as hunts being allowed for “research and observation” and on the “use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting”.


Where Do Turkeys Pardoned by the President Go?

As an animal lover and in the build up to Christmas this story makes me wonder whether the Queen should begin a new tradition here based on this thanksgiving act of mercy. This story tells us….

Following the bizarre American tradition that sees the president pardon a turkey each Thanksgiving, the turkeys go on to live a care-free life of luxury.

When the tradition of gifting presidents turkeys started years ago, the birds were typically sent to farms or zoos to live out their days.

In 2013, the turkeys were sent to their new home at Morven Park, the historic estate of former Virginia Governor Westmoreland Davis - where the 2014 and 2015 turkeys also went. 

Now, however, the spared turkeys are sent to an enclosure at Virginia Tech called “Gobbler’s Rest,” according to the White House - where they get to frolic with other free turkeys.

At Gobbler’s Rest, located on the school’s campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, the lucky turkeys are cared for by veterinarians and students of Virginia Tech’s Animal and Poultry Sciences Department.

At their new home, the turkeys may be visited by the public - who can also learn about the “university’s teaching, research and outreach programs in animal and poultry sciences and veterinary medicine.”

Despite one turkey winning the title of official National Thanksgiving turkey each year, the runner-up turkey is also pardoned and sent to live with its companion.


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


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