By and large the main parties have missed or dismissed ‘rural’ from their manifestos, yet ‘rural’ is fundamentally important. The rural industries – agriculture and horticulture – are responsible for producing about 60 per cent of the food we consume in this country.
Large portions of the British landscape are, in effect, managed by our farmers and growers. ‘Rural’ is inextricably linked to the environment and biodiversity. It is important in terms of recreation, leisure and human health. ‘Rural’ plays a vitally important part economically and socially, something successive Governments have failed to recognise.
The Government must position farming and food at the very top of its agenda. Growth of the global population, combined with the detrimental aspects of climate change, plus the impact of Brexit, indicates it is unlikely the UK will be able to continue to import food at the current rate.
Our own population is growing, thus threatening greater imbalance. Our farmers and growers are capable of increasing production, but they need helpful Government policies to assist them. The UK’s farmers and growers are immensely skilled, but they are often hampered by unhelpful regulations and hindered by unnecessary documentation.
Valuing and supporting farmers must include a reduction of red tape and fair tax reforms. At the same time, the Government must effect bilateral trade agreements, work with other countries to increase research to combat disease and expand output.
Demand for graduate and skilled entrants to some agriculture and horticulture sectors is reaching crisis point. Government must proactively alert young people of differing academic abilities to the wide range of progressive career opportunities offered in farming and food production.
About 50 per cent of Britain’s land mass is farmed. Government must adapt and enhance relevant EU policies and develop new strategic directions which involve measures to control air pollution, noise pollution, light pollution and water pollution. At the same time, Government must do more to protect vulnerable rural communities from flooding and multiplying effects of climate change.
The countryside is the subject of constant conflicts between the needs of the people who live there, people who operate a business there, people who visit to enjoy recreation and leisure and the habitats of diverse species of native wildlife.
The UK’s growing population renders access to the countryside increasingly, not less, important. The management of land and landscape has never been more vital. The demands and stresses of modern life impact on people in rural areas in similar ways to those living in urban environments, but often with additional or increased hazards.
Government must take account of the deficiencies which exist in some rural areas, particularly in relation to services and support provision, to ensure fairer social wellbeing. It is simple: rural should be central to policy decisions.