X

Create an account to continue reading.

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles
For unlimited access to The Spectator, subscribe below

Registered readers have access to our blogs and a limited number of magazine articles

Sign in to continue

Already have an account?

What's my subscriber number?

Subscribe now from £1 a week

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
 
View subscription offers

Already a subscriber?

or

Subscribe now for unlimited access

ALL FROM JUST £1 A WEEK

View subscription offers

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Login

Don't have an account? Sign up
X

Subscription expired

Your subscription has expired. Please go to My Account to renew it or view subscription offers.

X

Forgot Password

Please check your email

If the email address you entered is associated with a web account on our system, you will receive an email from us with instructions for resetting your password.

If you don't receive this email, please check your junk mail folder.

X

It's time to subscribe.

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access – from just £1 a week

You've read all your free Spectator magazine articles for this month.

Subscribe now for unlimited access

Online

Unlimited access to The Spectator including the full archive from 1828

Print

Weekly delivery of the magazine

App

Phone & tablet edition of the magazine

Spectator Club

Subscriber-only offers, events and discounts
X

Sign up

What's my subscriber number? Already have an account?

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

Thank you for creating an account – Your subscriber number was not recognised though. To link your subscription visit the My Account page

Thank you for creating your account – To update your details click here to manage your account

X

Your subscriber number is the 8 digit number printed above your name on the address sheet sent with your magazine each week.

Entering your subscriber number will enable full access to all magazine articles on the site.

If you cannot find your subscriber number then please contact us on customerhelp@subscriptions.co.uk or call 0330 333 0050.

You can create an account in the meantime and link your subscription at a later time. Simply visit the My Account page, enter your subscriber number in the relevant field and click 'submit changes'.

Please note: Previously subscribers used a 'WebID' to log into the website. Your subscriber number is not the same as the WebID. Please ensure you use the subscriber number when you link your subscription.

Blogs

Taxpayers fund farmers to wreck their landscape and flood their homes

18 February 2014

12:04 PM

18 February 2014

12:04 PM

Go to Google Maps and type in Lechlade – the Cotswold town at the start of the navigable Thames. Instead of looking at it on the map, click the ‘satellite’ button in the top right-hand corner of the screen for an aerial photograph, and follow the river west towards its source near Kemble in Gloucestershire or east towards Oxford. You may notice something that is so commonplace in British river systems most people ignore it: the woods, marshes and wetlands are all but gone. Farmers have ploughed fields up to the banks. Because there is nothing – or next to nothing – to soak up the rain, water and silt flows straight off the bare fields into the river and heads downstream.

In a marvellous series of articles for the Guardian, George Monbiot has explained how public money has turned the southern England into a funnel. This morning’s shows his ability to range from hydrology, to economics, to the idiocies of Brussels. It also shows a love of the British countryside, which to my mind makes his writing so appealing. Six weeks before the floods arrived, he writes:

…a scientific journal called Soil Use and Management published a paper warning that disaster was brewing. Surface water run-off in south-west England, where the Somerset Levels are situated, was reaching a critical point. Thanks to a wholesale change in the way the land is cultivated, at 38% of the sites the researchers investigated, the water – instead of percolating into the ground – is now pouring off the fields.
Farmers have been ploughing land that was previously untilled and switching from spring to winter sowing, leaving the soil bare during the rainy season. Worst of all is the shift towards growing maize, whose cultivated area in this country has risen from 1,400 hectares to 160,000 since 1970.

[Alt-Text]


Maize, grown to feed animals and the bio-fuel racket rather than people, is an awful crop. The last Labour government warned that the soil stays bare before and after Maize is harvested, without the stubble or weeds required to bind it. ‘Wherever possible,’ it urged, ‘avoid growing forage maize on high and very high erosion risk areas.’ But in the interests of deregulation and getting the state off the back of businesses and all the other thoughtless slogans that appeal to the British right, and, of course, at the prompting of the NFU, the coalition removed Labour’s restrictions of the planting of maize, and gave a specific exemption for maize cultivation from all soil conservation measures.

You might have entertained the naive belief that in handing out billions to wealthy landowners we would get something in return. Something other than endless whining from the National Farmers’ Union. But so successfully has policy been captured in this country that Defra – which used to stand for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs – now means Doing Everything Farmers’ Representatives Ask. We pay £3.6bn a year for the privilege of having our wildlife exterminated, our hills grazed bare, our rivers polluted and our sitting rooms flooded.

In a previous piece, which has become deservedly famous, Monbiot described how farmers could plant belts of trees to soak up water in uplands; and how they could allow flooding upstream. British development workers recommend these very strategies when they dispense British aid in the poor world. But when they try to bring that sound advice home, they run into the Common Agricultural Policy, which gives public money to farmers who clear unwanted vegetation from their land.

Monbiot recognises that reforesting and allowing rivers to follow their natural courses upstream will require taxpayers to compensate farmers. Fair enough. I would go further and say we should compensate farmers for the loss of some valuable agricultural land by allowing genetically modified crops. The rage against them was one of the maddest of millennial manias, up there with MMR causes autism. But if you want to allow GM crops or to change agricultural subsidies you run into the EU. I am surprised that conservative Eurosceptics are not concerned about what Brussels is doing to the countryside. But then there is a section of the British right that has become the tools of agribusiness. They are Conservatives who no longer wish to conserve.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close