Editor's comment: September 2017
PUBLISHED: 11:12 25 August 2017 | UPDATED: 11:12 25 August 2017
In this month's comment, our editor Mike Lowe unravels countryside misconceptions. Anyone fancy giving up their day job for a farm worker's guessed £46,801 wage?!
I have come to dread the words “According to a survey...” In this topsy-turvy Brexit-imminent world, they are inevitably followed by bad news of one kind or another.
We begin this month’s round-up with the claim that “one in eight young people has never seen a cow in real life”. While they may have spotted a cow on television (thank you, Adam Henson and Countryfile), 12% of 18 to 24-year-olds are so unfamiliar with the countryside that they have never seen cattle in person. A fifth say they have never even left the city in which they live.
While this is presented as a dire warning that the younger population are losing touch with how their food is produced, I’m not so sure that it is as terrible as it seems. Turn the figures around and you find that 88% - almost nine out of 10 – have seen a living, breathing cow and that four out of five have fled the tower blocks to head out into our green and pleasant land.
And let’s be honest, would we want the other 20% of disaffected urban ‘yoof’ rampaging around our fields in the first place, their baseball caps back to front, their trousers around their bottoms and their indecipherable thumping music polluting the rural idyll? Plus they’re all carrying knives these days. Probably best quit while we’re ahead.
I more or less got away with the remarks I made in a recent column about the need to exterminate grey squirrels. There were only three written complaints (one in crayon) and the bag of dog poo left on the office doorstep could just have been coincidental. But there are always new ways for the perpetually outraged to be perpetually outraged.
Andrew Hodgkinson is a ‘red squirrel ranger’, shooting grey squirrels in a bid to protect the native species. I would remind readers that this action is backed by the Wildlife Trusts and a £3million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, so we’re not talking ‘lone nutter with an air rifle’ here.
Now the squirrel exterminator has been branded ‘racist’ by opponents of the cull because he’s only shooting grey squirrels. The word ‘xenophobic’ has also been bandied about on the grounds that protecting red squirrels amounts to promoting British species at the expense of incomers.
Apparently 105,000 people have signed a petition calling for an end to the cull. As there are now only 140,000 red squirrels remaining – down from a population of several million 50 years ago – I know whose side I’m on.
More misconceptions about the countryside. The same survey that highlighted the cowlessness of callow youths also threw up the fact that one in four adults liked the idea of giving up their day job and working on a farm, with a farmer’s yearly income guessed, on average, to be £46,801.
(Please forgive the sudden outbreak of collective hysterical laughter from the six modest farms within a mile of my house.)
The harsh reality is somewhat different. Average farm incomes fell below £20,000 in 2015, to the lowest since 2007. Falling farmgate prices have forced many farmers to borrow money, something which has almost doubled in the past decade. Two-thirds of UK dairy farms have closed since 1995 and many that remain rely on credit in order to survive. And this is before we hit the Brexit buffers.
Encouragingly, half the people surveyed said they were willing to pay more for food to support local farmers, but just 15 per cent said UK production was the main motivator when buying food, compared to 42 per cent who said it was price. Perhaps the threat of having to rely on imported food, potentially produced to lower standards of animal welfare, might change that. Chlorinated chicken, anyone? Hormone-injected meat? Disinfected eggs? No, I thought not.
IN OUR feature last month on the newly-restored and rather splendid Tetbury Goods Shed, one resident was quoted as saying: “When I win a billion pounds, I will reinstate the Tetbury to Kemble railway.”
Well said, that man. I can think of nothing that would enhance the town more, except I would go further and extend the line all the way back to Cirencester. Although it must be admitted that such a scheme would make our precious pastoral patch more accessible to the cow-spotting young ruffians of Swindon.
For more of Mike’s musings follow him on Twitter! @cotslifeditor