CPRE Countryside Voices Summer 2020

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VOICES Summer 2020

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The countryside next door

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Why we depend on it – and why it needs our help more than ever

Feeding the nation

The farming businesses fighting for the future

Down by the sea

Meet boatbuilder and storyteller Gail McGarva

Music to our ears

The modern folk stars inspired by the landscape

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The countryside after coronavirus

Cover photo: Tree climbing in Epping Forest Photo: Alamy

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As we embark on what will be a painstaking national recovery, CPRE is striving for a post-pandemic countryside that will be more resilient in the face of future challenges. That means strengthening the connections that people have made with the countryside on their doorstep; holding on to the unforeseen benefits of the restrictions – like cleaner air, fewer carbon emissions and flourishing wildlife; and tackling some of the modern social ills that have emerged in the past few months. We’ve seen rural communities struggling to gain access to basic services, just as many urban neighbourhoods have been unable to enjoy quality green spaces. Meanwhile, increased litter and fly-tipping has plagued both parks and countryside. We are already providing positive leadership on these issues (see right),

In this issue…

Crispin Truman OBE Chief Executive @CrispinTruman

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2 NEWS

Lockdown may be easing, but its repercussions will be with us for many years to come, with the pursuit of economic recovery threatening the local countryside that has provided so much comfort and wellbeing (see In Numbers below). Our new manifesto for a resilient post-coronavirus countryside calls for a green recovery to be the legacy of lockdown, as opposed to the government’s ‘build, build, build’ plan to ‘scythe through red tape’. We won national media coverage and cross-party political support for our proposals to strengthen people’s new connections with the countryside through the regeneration of green spaces and rural economies. We believe that the physical and mental health benefits of the countryside must be made more accessible to marginalised groups – with funding for enhancing Green Belts and supporting community engagement projects. And with many rural towns and villages hit hard by the fallout of the virus, we want the government to set up a rural economy task force to provide targeted support for small businesses, farming and tourism. Other top

ALAMY

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Rural regeneration

representing people’s desire for a reshaped society that gives the needs of communities and countryside as much weight as those of the economy. We will resist any attempts to weaken planning protections in the name of ‘growth at all costs’ – an agenda that left us vulnerable to viruses and climate change in the first place. Instead, we’ll continue to promote an alternative vision that respects our environment as the source of everything that makes life worth living, not a blank canvas on which to impose acres of concrete and miles of tarmac. As CPRE has always known, enhancing and protecting our countryside is actually the best way to boost growth. Just think of the simple logic of ‘brownfield first’ – making efficient use of recycled land to create homes near jobs and services, reviving our commercial centres in the process. All of which ensures our green fields and countryside are there for farming, tourism, healthy recreation and providing the priceless ‘ecosystems’ that are the foundation of any successful economy. If this episode has changed the country forever, we must ensure that it is changed for the better.

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21 MY ENGLAND

What does the countryside need, post-coronavirus?

The long and winding road

Meet countryside access champion Maxwell Ayamba

The latest campaign updates

10 RURAL LIFE 6 LOCAL VOICES

16 INSPIRATION

We chat to boatbuilder and storyteller Gail McGarva

What’s happening nationwide

22 DISCOVER

Modern faces of folk music

The stonemason’s favourite landmarks

18 PEOPLE AND PLACES 8 YOUR VIEWS

12 BIG READ

Reader letters and emails

The countryside next door

CPRE The countryside charity 5-11 Lavington Street, London SE1 0NZ 020 7981 2800 | cpre.org.uk Editorial enquiries: Oliver Hilliam, oliverh@cpre.org.uk Membership enquiries: 020 7981 2870

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Farming businesses doing their bit to feed the nation

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24 VIEW FROM HERE An English orchard

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Many countryside communities have rallied together in the coronavirus crisis, as seen here in Hockley, Essex – but what’s next for rural England?

PROMOTING RURAL LIFE How CPRE’s national network has been championing the countryside

Joined-up journeys

ALAMY

You’ll find our manifesto for the countryside, our ‘Greener, better, faster’ report and many other useful downloads at cpre.org.uk/resources

The village of Chinnor, Oxfordshire, is currently served by three bus companies, with a fourth, Arriva (left) providing connecting services to nearby towns – yet it’s not possible to buy one integrated ticket that works on any bus. It’s just one example of how the county’s rural communities would benefit from a more joined-up transport system. CPRE Oxfordshire has responded to the county council’s Local Transport and Connectivity Plan by calling for a specific rural transport strategy to improve connectivity in rural areas, including market towns, and provide more sustainable travel choices for countryside dwellers. JOHN BLOXSOME

priorities include investment in social housing, so that the key workers who have been some of the heroes of the crisis are not priced out of rural areas, and better public transport funding for the rural communities that have been most isolated from essential services. Meanwhile, with the coronavirus delaying attempts to tackle the climate emergency, we’re urging the government to make up for lost time by adopting our plan to make the countryside a central part of the solution. Environment minister Rebecca Pow attended the virtual launch of our ‘Greener, better, faster’ report, which sets out practical ideas such as increasing the length of England’s hedgerows by 40%; adopting a strong ‘brownfield first’ policy; and diverting the £27bn roads budget towards public transport benefiting rural areas. We’ll be pushing for the adoption of these and other ideas that will help reduce carbon emissions while protecting and enhancing our green spaces. With your support, we’ll continue working with partners and communities to build the future we all want to see – one where a thriving countryside, post-coronavirus recovery, and decisive action on climate change all go hand in hand.

Restoring a local landmark

Your green spaces in numbers

57% said that lockdown had made them more aware of the mental health and wellbeing benefits of green spaces

63%

believe the protection of their local green spaces should be given a higher priority

71%

want to see green spaces enhanced with more plants and wildlife

Over 2,000 people told us what they wanted for their local green spaces – and for most, that meant better protection and care for these much-loved amenities. Our joint survey with the WI this year underlined just how much we all value our closest countryside, parks, nature reserves and other wild oases. Over half of us are more appreciative of our green surroundings since lockdown, while almost two-thirds think that protecting these places should be a higher priority in future. A second poll of 2,000 people with the HomeOwners Alliance found that nearly three-quarters would like their green spaces enhanced in some way, with over half keen to see more birds and pollinators and a greater variety of trees and plants. And there seems to be a growing recognition that human intervention is not always good for nature, with 30% specifically requesting less manicured spaces and more wildness. We’re using the findings to campaign for planning reforms that protect our local patches, and for investment to increase their value as our ‘natural health service’.

Bocking Windmill has been a feature of the Essex parish of Braintree and Bocking since 1721. A working mill until 1929, it is now a listed ancient monument cared for by the Friends of Bocking Mill community group – and looking smarter by the day with the help of a £500 donation from CPRE Essex. The money will help cover the costs of painting and cleaning, ensuring the mill looks its best for visitors once its regular open days and group visits resume.

Better rail connections The CPRE North West group is calling for a rail network that better serves rural communities and connects neglected towns across the region. They responded to the recent National Infrastructure Commission call for evidence regarding rail investment priorities for the North and Midlands by arguing for towns such as Skelmersdale and Fleetwood to be brought back onto the network, and for routes such as the Cumbrian Coast line to receive major upgrading.

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Speaking truth to power REPRO OP SUBS ART PRODUCTION

Guess who’s riding high in the polls? A recent parliamentary survey gauging more than 100 MPs’ knowledge and perception of CPRE revealed how high our reputation stands in Westminster. Thankfully, three-quarters of MPs questioned had heard of CPRE, and we were ranked first in terms of favourability among similar organisations, closely followed by the Ramblers and Friends of the Earth. The majority of MPs say that CPRE is solutions-based in its approach to influencing policy, rating us second only to Friends of the Earth in getting our campaigning messages across. But only 4% of MPs had an unfavourable view of CPRE, compared to 35% towards Friends of the Earth. And, very positively, two-thirds of MPs feel supportive about CPRE’s work. Our approval ratings were particularly high among the

governing Conservative Party, where three-quarters (76%) felt supportive of our work, and where we were ranked first among our peers for impactful campaigns and messages. Given that CPRE’s nationwide network is regularly in contact with local MPs, our volunteers are clearly making a good impression. We’ll be looking to press home this advantage with our parliamentary lobbying on all the crucial issues featured in this issue. We made a great start with this at ‘The Time Is Now’ mass online lobby on 30 June, when over 1,000 of our supporters – a sizeable chunk of the 13,000 total – took part in more than 200 MP meetings. Encouragingly, many CPRE supporters reported that MPs backed our demands for a more democratic planning system, greener building and ring-fenced rural transport funding.

WHAT TO DO THIS SUMMER

Help raise funds for our countryside

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We’re delighted to announce a new way to help members and supporters raise funds to protect and enhance our glorious countryside: CPRE’s first DIY fundraising guide, full of inspiring ideas for individuals or groups to support our work during the coronavirus restrictions and beyond. Why not bake some cakes, host an online or socially distanced quiz, or take on a litter-picking challenge – all in aid of the landscapes and green spaces you love? We can even offer bunting, sponsorship forms, poster templates and a ‘build your own’ collection box! Order your copy at cpre.org.uk/ guide or call Ben Greenstreet on 020 7981 2884.

Tangle with nature

CPRE’s reputation is riding high in the corridors of Westminster

Climate action begins at home July saw us issue a mixed response to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s ‘mini budget’ to support jobs. We welcomed the £3bn of funding for insulating homes and public buildings as a good start in achieving the improvements in energy efficiency CPRE has long called for. But we want to see it followed by a National Retrofit Strategy and a plan for longer-term investment, so that we can maximise the benefits of a green recovery for hard-hit rural communities – which suffer disproportionately from the impacts of fuel poverty. We were also pleased to see the chancellor highlight the need to support the hospitality industry that is so important for domestic tourism. Our hope is that the ‘eat out to help out’ scheme will help rural restaurants, pubs and cafés recover during August, and encourage people to choose a flight-free staycation in the countryside.

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This year many of us have found pleasure in observing nature more closely – not least bird lover and writer Lev Parikian: ‘The key to my enthusiasm for nature is to find interest in everything, whether it’s a woodlouse or a white-tailed eagle, and to take the time to appreciate it,’ he says. ‘My WIN daily mantra is: slow down – look – slow down again – look again. And perhaps, by looking, we understand our world just a little more, to slot another tiny piece into our jigsaw of the universe.’ Lev’s latest book, Into the Tangled Bank (Elliott & Thompson, £14.99), explores nature lovers’ relationship with the outdoors. For your chance to win one of three copies, email your name and address to cpre@thinkpublishing.co.uk with ‘Tangled Bank’ as the subject heading, or send your details on a postcard to CPRE/Tangled Bank, Think, Capital House, 25 Chapel Street, London NW1 5DH by 31 October 2020.

Remember your members’ guide With some of the attractions in our 2020 members’ guide gradually reopening to guests this summer, do show them your support, if you can. Be sure to check ahead to see which properties are open, and for details of special booking arrangements and whether member entry discounts are in force.


IN FOCUS

Homes for heroes Key workers have been the backbone of our response to the coronavirus pandemic, but they often find average private rents in rural areas unaffordable, according to new analysis of government figures by CPRE released for July’s Rural Housing Week. Countryside communities are more resilient if care workers, nurses, bus drivers and farmworkers can live among them, and helping those waiting for social housing would mean they'd collectively save over £500m a year in rent – money that could boost rural economies. We found average private rents are unaffordable for farmworkers in 86% of rural areas, rising to 96% for care workers. Average social rents would be affordable in the vast majority of cases – but there is a backlog of demand for housing that would take over 150 years to clear at current building rates. We joined forces with English Rural – a specialist provider of community-led affordable homes – to urge the government to allocate the £12.8bn needed to finally tackle this shortfall. . Rural key workers, such as postal workers, struggle to afford local rental costs

Simon Murray CPRE welcomed a new chair at our AGM on 24 June, as former National Trust director Simon Murray was elected to replace Su Sayer after her successful six-year term. Simon has many years’ experience working at board level, most recently at the National Trust, where he was chief operating officer and senior director until his retirement in 2019. Since then he has been lecturing and advising governments and organisations overseas, while remaining committed to local issues in his native Gloucestershire – where he is a trustee of several local charities and chair of CPRE in the Forest of Dean. Simon is especially keen to find new ways to encourage young people to enjoy and care for our countryside heritage. He told us: ‘I am thrilled to be taking over as chair of CPRE at this important time. The climate crisis

MACKENZIE

CAMPAIGNS AT A GLANCE

and unprecedented development pressure threaten the spirit and character of our much-loved countryside. But I see hope for the future. The coronavirus pandemic has made us realise just how much we depend on the countryside to nurture us, both physically and spiritually. But unless we nurture the countryside in return, much that we have loved will disappear. Today we need CPRE more than ever to champion a new vision for the English countryside.’ We were also delighted to elect two new vice presidents at the AGM: former CPRE director Dame Fiona Reynolds, and financier and former CPRE trustee Ali Miraj. We look forward to harnessing the talents, energy and enthusiasm of all three new appointees as we look to build support for our manifesto for the regeneration of the countryside.

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MEET OUR NEW CHAIR

night sky. This was a slightly worse result than last year’s figure of 57%. There was some (star)light at the end of the tunnel, though: a lucky 3% were enjoying truly Seeing stars dark skies and able to see more than 30 stars, compared to just 1% last year. Some of us are still enjoying far starrier Meanwhile, 82% of participants said they’d nights than others, according to our 2020 like to see their local council do Star Count. Around 2,500 of you took more to tackle light pollution. part in our nationwide citizen We’d like to see local science event in spring Cawfields, authorities adopt better and logged how many Northumberland National Park policies to protect stars you could see in the and enhance starry constellation of Orion. The skies, that could results show that 61% of also save them people could count fewer money and energy. than 10 stars, meaning they were in areas where Explore the full results, severe light pollution is including our map, at obscuring the beautiful cpre.org.uk/star-count

What’s the plan? Local plans are the basis of good housing development – setting out the long-term strategy for building in a particular area, and providing an opportunity for the public to help shape the places where they live. Yet CPRE’s latest analysis shows that fewer than a third of local planning authorities have a truly up-to-date plan for their area. Our research flatly contradicts the government’s claims that the planning system is genuinely plan-led. In reality, 80% of local planning authorities will need to review their existing plan or adopt a new one to hit the government’s 2023 target. Read our recommendations for creating a more plan-led system in our report What’s the plan? – available from cpre.org.uk/resources

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Hunt for beauty

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Local Voices NEWS AND CAMPAIGNS FROM ACROSS THE COUNTRY

‘Earlier this year we challenged the public to send us their best views of the Lancashire, Liverpool and Greater Manchester region for this year’s photo competition. We’ve enjoyed stunning scenes from Pendle Forest, Parlick Fell, Formby and many more, including the winner of our “People’s Choice” vote, this stunning shot of New Brighton Beach on the Wirral, taken by Stephen Carrigan. ‘Meanwhile, we’ve also been scrutinising Manchester City Council’s draft local plan – and we’re happy to support its overall aim of achieving a zero-carbon city by 2038. We did, however, recommend that the assumed growth of Manchester Airport and delivery of HS2 ought to be reviewed, owing to our concerns about their impacts on Green Belt, carbon emissions and the climate emergency.’ Debbie McConnell, chair, CPRE Lancashire

The rural setting of Castle Cary station has been preserved

Climate first BRISTOL AND AVON ‘We were delighted this spring when North Somerset planners heeded our concerns and voted against further expansion of Bristol Airport. Crucially, our evidence showed that the airport’s claims of economic benefit simply didn’t stack up. We’re now fighting a further application from the airport to extend night flights, currently only allowed in summer, to all year round. Not only would this fly in the face of the previous decision (so to speak), but also North Somerset Council’s wider strategy for tackling the climate emergency.’ David Worskett, chair, CPRE Bristol and Avon

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Defending Castle Cary SOMERSET ‘To some, Castle Cary is best known as a transit point to the Glastonbury Festival, but it’s one of Somerset’s most attractive market towns, rich in historic character. We recently opposed a planning application for 200 houses in the magnificent field sweeping down to the town’s Victorian railway

station. An independent heritage consultant, hired by the district council in response to CPRE Somerset’s concerns, confirmed that the resulting harm conflicts with the council’s Historic Environment policy. One of our planning volunteers spoke at the virtual planning committee meeting alongside local community campaigners, and we were delighted when the application was unanimously refused.’ Becky Collier, branch manager, CPRE Somerset

STEPHEN CARRIGAN

LANCASHIRE


Action and art

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‘Dorset is overdue a National Park’

DEVON ‘We continue to defend Devon from many hugely inappropriate developments, so we were delighted by some good news recently about the small village of Culmstock in Mid Devon. Plans for 140 houses – a development that would nearly have doubled the size of the village – were recently withdrawn, following local opposition. ‘Meanwhile, our art and writing competitions this spring provided a creative outlet for schoolchildren at home, attracting more entries than ever before. We were pleased to be able to help children and their parents, even in a small way, by giving them something to do during lockdown, and continuing to engage them in the countryside that has perhaps become more important to them than ever.’ Penny Mills, director, CPRE Devon The village of Culmstock

ALAMY

This year’s winner to come from Penny

Waterways and tramways HERTFORDSHIRE ‘A sparkling chalk stream is a classic Hertfordshire scene, but these precious habitats are under pressure from dry spells and over-abstraction. Alongside other CPRE groups, we’ll be fully participating in the ongoing £450m strategic study by water companies on a new water infrastructure for the southeast. More locally, we’re also

Peter Bowyer, chair of Dorset CPRE, discusses some of this year’s campaign highlights.

‘Our Lovely Essex’ ESSEX ‘We were delighted by the response to our appeal for images and impressions of “Our Lovely Essex”, which we launched in a bid to lift spirits during lockdown. We posted a range of varied contributions on the CPRE Essex website, all showing what people treasured about our county. The many highlights included this shot of Castle Street in Saffron Waldon, taken by regular contributor, Gordon Ridgewell. ‘Additionally, we had cause for some celebration during this difficult period when proposals for a cluster of “garden communities” in north Essex were crushed by a planning inspector who declared them “unsound”. Building stand-alone new towns on greenfield sites, without regard for existing communities or loss of habitat and valuable arable land, can never be the way ahead.’ David Knight, chair, CPRE Essex

supporting the Ver Valley Society’s call for tactical usage bans (aka hosepipe bans) to reduce the drain on the valley’s streams. Meanwhile, we’re also working with our allies to raise the potential of an east-west tram system across Hertfordshire that could ease traffic congestion, help regenerate central areas of the county, and improve connectivity with north-south rail routes.’ Richard Bullen, chair, CPRE Hertfordshire CPRE Hertfordshire is backing plans to protect the River Ver

‘Prior to lockdown this spring, Dorset CPRE held a very successful conference on how to achieve well-designed, better-planned new housing, organised by member and professional architectural historian Roger White. Opened by Emma Bridgewater, the conference featured a distinguished line-up of speakers including Ben Bolgar from The Prince’s Foundation and designer Ben Pentreath. Renowned landscape designer Kim Wilkie made a plea for landscape to be central to new large-scale developments. We also heard from the Earl of Moray, who has blazed a trail in Scotland by developing a popular new town on his land. Their presentations can be viewed on the Dorset CPRE YouTube channel. ‘Dorset has long been overdue its own National Park, and last September, the government-appointed Glover Review of Landscapes recommended that the county be among those seriously considered for National Park status. We are calling for early action to make this commitment a reality. ‘We are also campaigning for more realistic housing targets for Dorset, which better reflect local need. We commissioned a Housing Needs Report from Opinion Research Services, which shows that Dorset’s two unitary planning authorities are basing their developing local plans on excessively high numbers of houses. ‘Our efforts to tackle litter and waste also continue as best they can during this year’s disruption. We recently helped to fund a programme of workshops to encourage schoolchildren to explore and rethink their usage of single-use plastic. And we have also been encouraging members to support Dorset’s many quality food and drink producers who have been hard hit by hospitality and tourism closures.’

RUPERT HARDY

Find out more at dorset-cpre.org.uk

ALAMY

STEPHEN CARRIGAN

LOCAL VOICES

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MAILBOX LETTERS AND EMAILS VERSION

Hedgelayer Clive Leeke in action

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Your views Letters, emails and tweets from our members, and how to get in touch

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about the number of unoccupied houses in the country. I realise that this is a complex issue, and Homes and highways that not all of this housing stock I’ve just enjoyed reading the is suitable for habitation, but I feel spring edition and I’d like to it is an important part of the mix. make two comments. The first The second comment involves concerns housing development: the proliferation of advertising as long as the CEOs of these billboards along motorways and companies believe that their main highways. These (along with litter) aim should be to maximise profits are an unnecessary eyesore. We for shareholders, I don’t think live at a time when there are so things will improve either as much many avenues for promoting or as quickly as they should. goods and services. Why I also remain ‘pollute’ the countryside? concerned Bill van Marle, via email

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Bill wins £45 to spend at Harvest Bundle (harvestbundle.co.uk), the virtual farmers’ market for high-quality, sustainable food direct from UK farmers, all in one place.

Water waste

A comment on Andy Boddington’s article (spring 2020) with its examples of the country sometimes having too much water, in the form of floods, and sometimes too little, in the form of drought. Many drives slope down to the road and simply ‘dump’ rain

into gutters, adding to the flow to the local river system. One small action, which would remind everyone of water’s impact on our lives, would be requiring households who pave over their front gardens to ensure any rainwater remains within the property, and so ends up in the

WILL AMLOT

Star letter

aquifer – by using porous paving, or by ensuring any water runs off at the side or is intercepted by a soak-away grille, rather than wastefully running off into gutters. John Davis, Harpenden, Hertfordshire

Beauty of baking

It is very rare for me to read a magazine as soon as it comes through the letterbox, but I was immediately sucked in by the piece about baking bread on the back cover (spring 2020). Odd that a simple loaf of bread can be so photogenic! And the writing by Angus D Birditt was that of a real weaver of tales; simple but magic. Linda Losito, via email

Life on the hedge

The delightful article in your spring edition featuring hedgelayer Clive Leeke took me back instantly over 28 years to 29 October 1991, when quite by chance I came across a national hedgelaying competition on the green lane west of Montford Bridge near Shrewsbury. What fascinated me then were the different styles of hedgelaying from different regions of the country. The National Hedgelaying Society website is a mine of information. It’s good to see in your pages the continuation of such country crafts. Rodney Whittaker, Surrey

The power of flowers

I enjoyed Peter Marren’s piece `The Power of Flowers’. I had never noticed the cats’ eyes

in speedwell, and went straight out to have a look. Peter also told us how Wordsworth loved the lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), but that the stonemason who engraved his grave carved the greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), which is a quite different plant. Unfortunately your picture shows the greater celandine. There are lesser

celandines sparkling in the sunshine all over my garden, here is a picture [left]. Caroline Series, Herefordshire In the article ‘The Power of Flowers’, you have made the same mistake as the engravers of Wordsworth’s memorial! However, you cannot be perfect all the time – thank you for your wonderful publication.

Anna Hoysted, Hook, Hampshire

Countryside Voices says: Many thanks to Caroline, Anna, our writer Peter, and all who pointed out our error. Unfortunately, the issue coincided with lockdown and the team dispersing to work from home, so our usual checks were evidently not as rigorous as they should have been.

We’d love to know what you think of the magazine and the issues we’ve covered. email us at cpre@thinkpublishing.co.uk Twitter via @CPRE write to us at Countryside Voices, Think, Capital House, 25 Chapel Street, London NW1 5DH We are unable to respond to all letters, and those published may be edited for length and clarity.

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PHOTO: JOHN MILLER, JOHNMILLERPHOTOGRAPHY.COM; WORDS: OLIVER HILLIAM

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The long and winding road Zig Zag Road up Box Hill became a focal point for cyclists seeking escape during lockdown. This stretch is adorned by the ‘Box Hill Road River’, created by Turner Prize-winning landscape artist Richard Long for the 2012 Olympic cycling road race. With CPRE calling for greater investment in active

travel to reduce emissions and improve health, we welcomed the government’s May announcement of a £2bn fund for cycling and walking infrastructure – including new bike lanes and pedestrianised spaces. We dedicate this beautiful view of one of the National Trust’s flagship landscapes

to the charity’s 125th anniversary this year. That rich history has included many partnerships with CPRE, including on our campaign to create National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty – a designation that has helped protect the Surrey Hills since 1958.

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EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY


RURAL LIFE GAIL MCGARVA VERSION REPRO OP

Rocking the boat From Shetland boats to Cornish gigs and Dorset’s lerrets, boatbuilder and storyteller Gail McGarva is passionate about preserving the working heritage of our island nation

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How long did it take to learn? Fifteen years on, I’m still learning; there’s always more to discover. But that nine-month course gave me the bedrock of knowledge and skills I needed to build my first boat: a replica – or daughterboat, as I call them – of the oldest surviving Shetland boat, a type of fishing boat that was used to catch herring. What does it feel like to go out in a boat you’ve built yourself? I launched my first boat from Unst, the northernmost of the Shetland Isles, from the very same slipway where her original motherboat launched in 1882. I’ll never forget the feeling of excitement and apprehension! She glided on the water with ease, totally in her element. What appeals to you about boats? No boat has evolved by chance. All around Britain, you’ll find traditional working boats shaped for the job they have to do and the challenges of the local shoreline. They’re the perfect blend of form and function, and each boat has a story to tell about the waters and communities that made them. By building daughterboats and

Each boat has a story to tell about the communities that made them celebrating their history, I hope to give their stories a new lease of life. How localised are these designs? One of the best examples is the lerret, a fishing boat from Dorset’s Chesil Beach. Their flat-bottomed shape has evolved to cope with launching from its steep, stony shore. I built a daughterboat to Vera, one of the surviving lerrets, and the original motherboat was given to me after being retired. I turned her upside down and transformed her into a Story Boat to visit schools and hold talks and workshops [pictured above before lockdown]. Cornish pilot gigs are another interesting example – these fast boats are now used in competitive racing, but their original function was to take pilots out to incoming ships, to help guide them into

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rocky shores. They were built for speed as the crews were racing for their livelihoods, not for leisure. Do you think we’re losing touch with our nautical history? Less so now than previously. Organisations like National Historic Ships and the Heritage Crafts Association are looking at how to preserve endangered vessels and skills. But the small-scale working boats of Britain are not high profile; many that were recorded in the 1970s are likely to have fallen by the wayside, as they’re so little used. To me, they’re the unsung heroes of our maritime heritage. What do you enjoy most about your line of work? As well as the practical building, I’m passionate about capturing the memories of fishing communities. I’ve gathered oral histories from the fishing collectives that operated the lerrets, for example. It fills you with admiration for the hard work and seamanship of the men and, more rarely, the women who used these boats. Many working boats

Any memorable moments? I remember my first time on the starting line of the world gig-racing championships in the Isles of Scilly, rowing in one of the Cornish gigs I’d built. I remember looking around and seeing the two other gigs I’d built on my left and right. To have three of my ‘girls’ among the 150-odd competitors was thrilling. And some of the most amazing moments of rowing gigs come when the sea is roughest, like a fairground ride, and you’re drenched by waves, but the whole crew is laughing hysterically. You feel so safe in the boat. How has this year’s lockdown impacted on you and your work? I miss my educational work with The Story Boat. Children love coming aboard and exploring, but that hasn’t been possible with social distancing. In the meantime I’ve been setting up a workshop inside her to do some makings, and thinking about other ways to tell stories. I also count myself very lucky to live near the sea in Lyme Regis, and I’ve been more appreciative of that than ever. What makes a good boatbuilder? You have to trust your eye. There’s often little written documentation about the boats I build – the craft has been passed down from one generation to the next, until it’s virtually in their DNA. I’m indebted to mentors who were amazingly generous in passing on their knowledge to someone outside that tradition. Gradually you learn to build by eye and know if the boat is ‘fair’, as we say. Now, it’s important to me to pass on their legacy. Find out more at gailmcgarva.com

MAIN IMAGE: REBECCA COLLIS; ABOVE LEFT: SIMON TUTTY; LEFT: JULIAN CALDER

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doubled as lifeboats and were taken out in the most tempestuous seas to save people from wrecks. I love telling their stories to young people and igniting a sense of connection to the sea.

How did you end up working in boatbuilding? I’m not from a boatbuilding background. I used to work as a British Sign Language interpreter. But I’ve always been mad about rowing and being on the water. For years, I lived on a houseboat in Bristol and on the River Avon. One day I read a magazine article about the Boat Building Academy in Lyme Regis, and I instinctively knew I had to apply. It was a leap of faith!


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MAIN IMAGE: REBECCA COLLIS; ABOVE LEFT: SIMON TUTTY; LEFT: JULIAN CALDER

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The countryside next door

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Green spaces in our own neighbourhoods have been more precious to many than ever this year – but they remain under huge pressure, reports Mark Hillsdon

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’d never really paid the pond much attention before. Set on the edge of the Chorlton Ees Nature Reserve in south Manchester, its deep, dark waters are dotted with yellow flag iris, and fed by a sluice from the nearby River Mersey; the far end running away into bog and a forest of reed mace. I’d walked past, with various dogs, on most days over the past 20 years, but had rarely stopped to look. During lockdown, though, I seemed to have more time to explore my local patch, and this Monday evening, as walkers, joggers and cyclists passed by, I stood and scanned the pool with binoculars. I watched as a squawking coot herded its chicks back to the safety of its ramshackle nest, and a mallard drifted serenely past. Then a telltale flash of blue caught my eye, a scimitar of turquoise iridescence: the unmistakable sight of a kingfisher dipping into the water. It struck and swooped up to a perch, a minnow clasped firmly in its beak; a true moment of lockdown elation. It probably fished there most days, but I’d simply not looked before. During this year’s lockdown, local green spaces have become a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of people. Many have rediscovered

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parks and fields, zigzagged on forgotten trails, or found time to explore that small patch of wilderness they once rushed past on the school run or commute to work. In May, CPRE teamed up with the Women’s Institute to find out more about people’s experiences of lockdown, and one of the key findings was how much more connected people felt with the outdoors. Over half of the 2,000 interviewed said they were now more aware of the importance of their local green spaces. ‘The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us why the countryside next door, including our Green Belts, is so valuable to ordinary people,’ says CPRE chief executive Crispin Truman. ‘More people are aware of the health and wellbeing benefits that access to green spaces delivers, and support for protecting and enhancing these after lockdown is impossible for the government to ignore.’

A breath of fresh air In total around 22% – or just under three million hectares – of England’s land consists of countryside within 5km of large towns and cities. This is the countryside next door: a hotchpotch of fields, parks, farmland,

Mark Hillsdon is a freelance writer who has contributed to The Guardian, BBC Countryfile and BBC Wildlife magazines.

woodland and wilderness areas that provide a breath of fresh air for at least 30 million people who live in urban areas. Around half of this land is Green Belt, a designation created in 1938 thanks to CPRE campaigning. Today, 14 Green Belts stretch around our major cities, covering around 13% of England. Their tougher planning controls have helped to check urban sprawl, encourage the recycling of derelict land and maintain a visual distinction between town and country, yet CPRE research shows that thousands of hectares of Green Belt land is lost every year to development.


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During lockdown the people of Manchester have benefited from the parks and reserves dotted along the River Mersey

CPRE’s strategic planning lead, Paul Miner, is currently working on a project that will push for greater protection not only for Green Belt, but for all of England’s urban fringes. This year’s coronavirus crisis, he believes, has amplified the importance of this: ‘I’m lucky that the area of London I live in has several green spaces, and most of them remained open in lockdown,’ he says. ‘So it’s helped me rest my eyes after spending long periods at a computer screen, but moreover has also provided that sense of peace and wellbeing that you get from being in a green space. It has also provided reminders of the wider countryside, even when I can’t easily get there.’

Spaces for nature The ‘Countryside next door’ project aims to improve access to green spaces as well as maximise their natural capital – those services that the environment provides for free. The government has already called for increased wetland and woodland cover in the countryside around towns to act as a carbon sink, and a

refuge from increasing temperatures, in the climate emergency. ‘As well as helping the fight against climate change, these areas are also beneficial as spaces for wildlife,’ says Paul. The project will call for more nature reserves and community forests, and encourage continued investment from businesses that operate on the urban fringe, such as water and extraction companies, many of which have already helped transform old industrial sites such as quarries into nature reserves. During our lockdown in Manchester, we took to roaming our local urban fringe, discovering new green lanes, forest walks and riverside trails we’d never explored before. Perhaps emboldened by the lack of people, hitherto unseen mammals such as stoats and shrews darted across paths in front of us, and we were able to sit and marvel at sand martins performing aerial acrobatics as they swooped into their riverbank burrows. Much of the land we walked through was agricultural, and farming has always been an

integral part of the Green Belt, says Paul: ‘One of the reasons why Green Belts were originally set aside was to prevent the loss of farmland around our towns and cities.’ Yet there has been a worrying decline in the number of so-called peri-urban farms, on the outskirts of urban areas; something that needs to change as cities, and their populations, continue to grow: ‘There is increasing interest in cities becoming more self-sufficient in terms of food production,’ Paul says. ‘In a lot of urban areas, people find it hard to access freshly grown, nutritious food.’ There are concerns too about the transition to a new national agricultural policy post-Brexit: ‘The former farming policy, for all its flaws, did a lot to help maintain farming around large urban areas and foster a sense of the countryside close to where people live,’ he says. ‘We’re calling for 20% of the new Environmental Land Management funding to support even more, and greener, food production around cities.’ In the future, Paul hopes to see a surge in community-supported agricultural businesses, bringing farming back to our Green Belts and providing cities with locally sourced food, produced under sustainable farming practices.

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There is an often-overlooked cultural aspect to the Green Belt too, with some designated to protect the historic setting of towns and cities such as Bath, Oxford and Cambridge. Many historic parks and gardens also sit within the urban fringe, and CPRE wants to increase protection of these and encourage greater investment in their future. Meanwhile, not all cities are blessed with a green bulwark – something a number of CPRE groups are working to change. CPRE Norfolk is campaigning to introduce what the group’s chair, Christopher Dady, calls ‘green wedges’ around Norwich, taking advantage of existing green corridors such as river valleys, footpaths and cycleways. As he notes, people have started to realise just how valuable these spaces are during lockdown: ‘It has shown how good they are for mental health, exercise and just being able to get out of your house and go somewhere away from the concrete,’ he says. ‘We’ve seen loads more cycling and walking than we would normally.’

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Fringe benefits Given that housing development remains the greatest threat to Green Belt, one argument that has surfaced this year is whether – with more people likely to be working from home post-pandemic – there might be less pressure on city centres for office space, and therefore more room for people to live in existing urban areas without homes spilling out onto the green margins. However, Paul doesn’t foresee any break in the battle to defend Green Belt: ‘I think you’ll get quite a few in the development industry who’ll be lobbying for quick and easy land to develop,’ he says. ‘That’s why we want to see a strong “brownfield first” policy that will revitalise run-down neighbourhoods. But we face a government narrative that building on the Green Belt is a quick fix for the economy.’ Indeed, the economic benefits provided by the Green Belt itself often go unrecognised. CPRE Hampshire is campaigning to create a new Green Belt in the south of the county to prevent further urban sprawl around Portsmouth, Southampton and Winchester. Its research has shown that protecting this area could generate £26m a year in health, wellbeing and economic benefits. These include better physical and mental health (leading to fewer GP visits), greater flood protection, improved air quality, and increased tourism and recreation.

Askham Bog has been defended from adjacent Green Belt development

The River Lea, shown here near Tottenham Hale, is a green corridor into London

Sometimes the benefits of Green Belt do get recognised and upheld. CPRE North Yorkshire recently welcomed the decision to block 500 new homes being built on Green Belt land on the edge of Askham Bog, a small surviving remnant of the ancient fenlands of Yorkshire. The development would not only have had a major effect on access to the reserve, but also on the wildlife that lives there, says CPRE’s Kate Atkinson, one of the group’s trustees: ‘It’s a great relief to have saved the site, but we also recognise that the council is under a phenomenal amount of pressure for housing,’ she says. ‘We applaud their recent approval of a huge brownfield site in York centre, which includes plenty of affordable housing.’

Planning for the future I grew up on the northern edge of London’s Green Belt, and took it for granted that I could set out on foot to go camping with the Scouts, and that there was a network of places to go birdwatching on my doorstep, from forest and farmland to the wetlands around the River Lea. Today, many of these are part of the Lee Valley Regional Park, a green corridor from London into Essex and Hertfordshire. Here, old

industrial sites have been transformed into a mix of wildlife habitat and spaces for recreation, while the futures of many local farms have also been safeguarded. ‘Lee Valley is an exemplar of what can be done in Green Belts and other countryside areas,’ says Paul; a greenprint, if you like, for our countryside next door, with joined-up thinking and a masterplan governing what happens within the park. ‘There needs to be stronger commitment to safeguarding and improving the Green Belt in the future,’ he adds. ‘One of the problems has been that although the government has made political commitments to the Green Belt, these have been undermined in practice by many local authorities altering the boundaries at a local level. ‘We believe that there should be a renewed commitment to the permanence of Green Belt boundaries, and long-term investment in the Green Belt and urban fringe areas.’ Perhaps the events of the past few months, and our rediscovery of the countryside next door, will help ensure this happens. As Kate says: ‘It’s crucial that we retain these vital bits of Green Belt, to give us the access to the countryside and the breathing space we need.’

Tell us how you’d like to see the countryside next door enhanced at cpre@thinkpublishing.co.uk

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What’s next for the countryside? What does the countryside need to recover and thrive after the coronavirus crisis? We asked a National Park chief, a politician, an education expert and a farming champion

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Andy Wilson is chief executive of the North York Moors National Park Authority

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Caroline Lucas MP is the former leader of the Green Party

Iesha Small is head of strategy and policy at the YHA

Caroline Drummond MBE is chief executive of LEAF (Linking Environment and Farming)

‘We are looking to capitalise on new visitors’

‘We need to redesign the rural economy’

Alongside the challenges we have faced, National Parks have found a sudden rise in popularity. We are looking to capitalise on this for the benefit of our rural economy, while ensuring we have affordable homes fit for key worker heroes. Our ranger and education teams are engaging with the younger individuals who flocked to the Park once restrictions started to ease. We’re working hard to explain the impacts of littering and fires, and listen to the needs of these new users. High-speed digital communications have proved vital this year and offer young people the opportunity to work within the National Park, instead of moving away. We hope the latest government initiative will finally deliver these effectively. Since the financial crash, regulatory protection of National Parks has progressively weakened. Hopefully this will not continue – it undermines what makes the Park special. Tourism is our biggest employer, and we’re working to extend the season and remodel the industry around greener ways of working. And our conservation work, including river restoration and 7,000ha of native woodland planting, can play a crucial role in tackling the climate crisis.

Coronavirus has meant 250,000 If we are to protect rural England, young people missing out on a we need to redesign the rural life-changing stay in a YHA hostel economy – and that means this year. Despite this, our Access rethinking our approach to the Unlimited coalition is confident whole economy, which is currently that, soon, we’ll help more built on the endless pursuit of school and youth groups infinite economic growth. access high-quality learning What we have learned during and residential experiences in the coronavirus crisis may have our finest countryside. given us a unique opportunity to A wider range of society do so because it has changed has realised the benefits everything, reminding us who to health and wellbeing and what really matters in that access to our lives, and laying Tell us what the countryside bare the profound you think the can bring, and weaknesses of countryside needs organisations like our economic to recover at cpre@ YHA play a vital foundations. thinkpublishing.co.uk role in supporting We can redesign and visit cpre.org.uk tourism and our economy and for our latest rural employment. society to meet campaigns We need the everyone’s basic government to help needs – for food, fund the reopening of shelter, health and financial our sector, and bring forward security. We can transform investment intended to implement our food and farming system the Glover Landscapes Review’s to prioritise public health and aim to help young people stay in sustainability. A new economic our National Parks and Areas of approach would allow us to focus Outstanding Natural Beauty. on what really matters to people: With the right support now, their wellbeing. That means an our youth hostels can help economic model which prioritises kick-start rural economies, public health, community resilience save jobs and put residential and ecological health rather countryside experiences at the than rising consumption and core of our nation’s recovery. continuous GDP growth.

‘Future farming ‘Countryside will need to experiences can help our recovery’ embrace health’ Food, farming and nature have been under the spotlight during these past months of lockdown. We are increasingly recognising how our food system is closely linked to the natural world, and to our own health and wellbeing. LEAF has been at the forefront of developing more integrated, resilient and regenerative approaches to farming, and our priority going forward is to scale up and fast-track the practices that really deliver change on the ground in terms of sustainable soil and water management, reducing carbon, tackling waste, enhancing farm biodiversity and connecting with communities. Future farming systems will need to embrace health and diversity; the health of our people (physical and mental), crops, soil, livestock, economy and planet. And we need to embrace diversity, in nature, in what we grow and eat; reaching out and learning from diverse cultures around the globe. Collaboration is key, and the conversation needs to start now, ensuring we address the uncertainties of the future and disruptions such as climate change in an imaginative way, blending science-based, sustainable solutions with values and ethics.

Rural key workers such as farmers must be able to survive and prosper in the countryside

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Folk’s new pathways

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Closer connections That connection was something that Somerset singer-songwriter Kitty Macfarlane experienced first-hand when she moved back to her childhood home from Bristol this spring – initially camping in her parents’ back garden to isolate at the start of the coronavirus crisis. ‘When I arrived in the middle of March, it was completely frosty and icy,’ she says. ‘Slowly I’ve been seeing everything come to life and transform. Creatively, it’s really inspiring. I think it gives you a finer observatory eye, seeing those changes.’ Kitty’s songs are rooted in the landscape of Somerset; from its weathered northern coastline, through the rolling Quantock Hills that inspired Coleridge and Wordsworth, and on to

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the bleak beauty of the Somerset Levels. Her subject matter ranges from the migration of the European eel to the merpeople of local legend. On the title track to her debut album, Namer of Clouds, Kitty sings of ‘This human need to name the sublime’ and ‘To give a name to something fleeting’. ‘That’s something I keep coming back to in my writing; trying to grapple with that feeling of your place in nature and not just being a spectator,’ she says. ‘There’s nothing more humbling than standing at the bottom of a starling murmuration, or on top of a hill, feeling the wind hit you. I guess Seckou I’m trying to explore how Keita our sense of belonging combines the music ties in with place and land of Senegal and nature.’ with British folk Songs of protest influences ‘It’s a massive subject and something I’m deeply passionate about,’ agrees Sam Lee, a former student of bushcraft expert Ray Mears, as well as a singer and collector of traditional folk songs. ‘It goes hand in hand with my very strong views on access to land and the right to roam.’ He notes how folk music is so often tied into protest movements – from the Inclosure Acts of the 18th century to civil rights causes today: ‘There’s such an incredible repertoire of songs that speak about

Sam Lee near Lewes, Sussex

segregation of humans and land. There’s a wonderful song I was singing with my choir yesterday, The Goose and the Common, about punishing those who take “the goose from off the common / But leave the greater villain loose / Who steals the common from off the goose”.’ Sam draws a direct parallel with 21st-century concerns: ‘I see very much how, today, songs can tell of

KITTY MACFARLANE: TODD MACDONALD; ALULA DOWN: IMRAN SHAIKH

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ast year’s inaugural Bright Field festival, held near the Welsh Marches, brought together some of the leading lights of modern English folk music, including singer-songwriter Sam Lee and experimental folk duo Alula Down, coupled with poetry and literature. Organised by Guardian folk correspondent Jude Rogers, the event was one of many indicators of today’s exciting folk music scene – fuelled by a DIY culture made possible by sites such as Bandcamp that allow anyone to release home-made recordings. ‘If it’s a scene, it’s a disparate scene,’ says Jude – but like Bright Field itself, she believes its artists often share a sense of connectedness with the world around them. ‘This is an area that’s ripe with poetry and folklore and has attracted lots of bohemian types – musicians, artists and writers – some drawing on earlier traditions from Hereford, Shropshire and Gloucestershire, much of which are deeply connected to the land and the changing of the seasons.’

SECKOU KEITA: ALAMY; SAM LEE: WILL PARSONS

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Mark Hooper meets some of the modern faces of English folk music and discovers how their work is rooted in landscape – and fired by a shared desire to preserve natural and cultural heritage


Kitty Macfarlane on the flooded Somerset Levels

Isles. ‘Folk songs have travelled backwards and forwards across the Atlantic, from the Appalachians and the west coast of Ireland, from Scotland and England and then across to Europe,’ says Mark. ‘The same song appears in all sorts of different places. And then there’s cross-fertilisation between that and African song. You end up with new musical forms, but there are common antecedents.’

Spell songs Squaring the circle, Nottingham-based Seckou Keita combines the traditional music of Senegal with British folk influences and nature themes, through projects including The Lost Words (inspired by the book of the same name by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris, exploring the ‘spell songs’ of various cultures) and his collaborations with Welsh harpist Catrin Finch. These include Soar, an album that takes its inspiration from the osprey, a bird that migrates between West Africa and northern Europe. A connection with the landscape is a key factor for Seckou: ‘The water always inspires me. But I can also find inspiration on a longdistance flight. The sky and the earth: those are my inspirations!’ As a master of traditional West African stringed instrument the kora, with students all over the world, Seckou is dismissive of geographic borders in folk music. ‘For me there’s only two types of music,’ he says: ‘good music and not-so-good music!’ While geography might not be what unifies these fascinating artists, their work is deeply informed by the land. ‘I think folk music can be seen as a powerful tool for engaging in a love affair with the natural world, and exploring what our relationship with it should be,’ says Sam. ‘Finding out how to understand and connect with nature is a lifetime’s learning.’

KITTY MACFARLANE: TODD MACDONALD; ALULA DOWN: IMRAN SHAIKH

SECKOU KEITA: ALAMY; SAM LEE: WILL PARSONS

Kate and Mark of Alula Down on Herefordshire's Common Hill

the exploitation of the environment and the impact that will have on all of us as a society,’ he says. ‘This is now about more than just losing our livelihoods – it’s about losing our future and the depletion of species. ‘I think the folk music world has a real job to do in taking up that mantle. Because looking back, we will have to ask, did we do enough?’

Folk connections Like Sam, Hereford-based Alula Down (Kate Gathercole and Mark Waters) note how folk music is rooted in what Mark describes as ‘a kind of resonance for dispossessed and exploited people all over the world’.

Kate details how the modern folk scene can be categorised into distinct (and slightly tonguein-cheek) subsections: ‘There’s “psych-folk”; that comes from more of a pastoral landscape... and then there’s “ruralcore”; that has a harder edge.’ It doesn’t end there – witness the folk rock of Johnny Flynn (who provided the soundtrack for TV’s Detectorists before going on to full movie star status); the radio-friendly crossover success of Laura Marling; or the Memory Band, who couple traditional folk songs with pop, rock and electronic experimentalism. Then there are folk’s connections with other cultures, which extend far beyond the British

Journalist Mark Hooper has worked at The Face, i-D, Arena and Esquire and was the founding editor of Hole & Corner magazine, which celebrates craftsmanship and sustainability in the creative arts.

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Jonny and Dulcie Crickmore with their children at Fen Farm Dairy

Feeding the nation This year has posed some extraordinary challenges for British farmers. Clemmie Gleeson spoke to three farming businesses about their experiences of feeding the nation during a global pandemic – and how they’ve turned challenges into opportunities

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ielding a stream of phone calls from customers cancelling large orders was an extremely worrying time for Suffolk dairy farmer and cheesemaker Jonny Crickmore: ‘In the first week of lockdown we lost 70% of our business,’ he recalls. ‘It was pretty dire – we hadn’t realised how much of our business relied on the hospitality trade. ‘We had a lot of customers with regular orders, big jobs for summer events like Ascot and Wimbledon, and they were dropping like flies. It left us in a worrying place.’ Jonny and wife Dulcie have a herd of nearly 300 Montbéliarde cows that graze the wildliferich water meadows of the Waveney Valley near Bungay. A move away from the higheryielding Holstein to the red-and-white Montbéliarde breed seven years ago also led to him launching his Fen Farm Dairy business, producing raw milk cheeses, butter and cream. Sales had been growing year-on-year, so the dramatic change in 2020 was a shock. When the closure of hospitality businesses was announced, Jonny and his team had a ‘mountain’ of cheese, including their most popular product, Baron Bigod Brie, ready to be sold, and yet more on the way. None of it would keep for long, so they needed a plan. ‘There was some cheese that we had no hope of selling, as it was already at its optimum and we couldn’t leave it,’ says Jonny. So they decided to give it away to the customers of a local milk roundsman: ‘It feels good to give someone something as a present, and we thought that if they like it, they might want to buy it again.’ The appreciation expressed by local people blew him away. ‘It was amazing how many thank yous we had, from cards and boxes of chocolates to bottles of wine,’ he says. ‘I was quite moved reading the messages, including one from a lady in her 80s saying how worried she had been, and that it was lovely to receive some of our cheese. It made me realise that we had made people happy. It’s not all about money and business.’ But of course, with 300 mouths to feed on the farm and a team of 25, they needed to keep the business afloat. With cheesemaking paused, Jonny made the tough decision to furlough half of the production team, but kept all office staff to focus on sales. His plan was to sell the cheese that was ready, and rebalance the business by selling more of their milk to Arla Foods, which already collected a proportion of the herd’s production. ‘We had over £50,000 worth of cheese ready

to go. It was a huge worry for a small business, potentially losing that sort of money.’ Reports of supermarkets being stripped bare by panic buyers inspired him: ‘I kept thinking the supermarkets have no food on the shelves, yet we have a mountain of delicious Brie. We had to work hard to find a new route to sell.’ They offered discounts and special offers on their website to boost sales, and were vocal on social media. ‘We worked with other cheesemakers to get the message across that the British cheese industry is in real trouble. We kept the message as positive as we could, and it really worked. We managed to sell more in the next two weeks through our online shop than all of our wholesale orders combined.’ Meanwhile, local people who enjoyed their free cheese also starting buying in their droves, with the milk roundsman taking orders for around 120 wedges a week. ‘We shifted our mountain of cheese and, from that point on, it turned the other way,’ says Jonny. ‘We had stopped making cheese for two weeks, then started again with small amounts, and ever since then we have been making it for England. It was very strange going from nothing to selling as much as at Christmas.’ The furloughed staff were soon back in the dairy, and the farm did not need to send more milk to Arla. Going forward, Jonny hopes the business will be able to maintain some of the growth: ‘It has brought more awareness of our product. We have definitely become more known throughout the UK on the back of this.’

Clemmie Gleeson is a Norfolk-based freelance journalist who has been writing about farming, food and rural issues for more than 20 years.

vulnerable to the peaks and troughs of the market prices. ‘The week before lockdown, our sales increased by 265%,’ says Tom. ‘In the first two weeks in April, we sold the same amount as the whole of 2019. It was like we went from zero to hero overnight.’ Tom praises the hard work of his staff of six, who look after the butchery, packing and administration. ‘After the lockdown announcement I got the whole team in and told them that we are an important business helping to feed people, and there might be challenges coming our way,’ he explains. ‘We’ve got to understand that we are a lifeline for people on their own who can’t get out. They rolled up their sleeves and got on with it.’ He had to invest quickly in more refrigeration and packing equipment and increase the

Local hero Yorkshire farmer Tom Kitchen-Dunn also experienced a huge surge in interest this year from people looking for home deliveries. His business Lamb2Ewe started life in 2018 as a simple box scheme to sell the lambs he reared on rented grazing. He now has a shop in Honley near Holmfirth, and also sells via his website. The business supplies customers around the country with Dexter beef reared by Tom’s family, and a range of meats from a further 12 farmers, all based within a 10-mile radius of the shop. Tom hand-picks the farms that supply him in accordance with his ethical ethos, with an emphasis on grass-fed lamb and beef and outdoor-reared pork. All are small, independent farms that aim to keep their stock outside for as much of the year as possible. For his part, Tom guarantees to pay his suppliers a premium price for their produce, so they are less

Tom Kitchen-Dunn at his shop

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producing briquettes for log burners from rape cake, the residue left over from rapeseed oil production. The couple sell their products through 20 local shops, pubs, cafés and garden centres, all of which were impacted by the pandemic. ‘First we had shop customers emailing asking for extensions on paying their invoices, so I started to worry about cash flow,’ says Donya. ‘Then we lost a lot of orders, while some outlets wanted more because of panic buying. It was a lot to think about all at once, and I was having to work late into the night.’ She started going to a local dairy farm to collect milk and yoghurt for the family. ‘I asked if anyone else in the village wanted any milk,

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capacity of his website, where visitor numbers reached 1,500 per day compared to 1,500 per month previously. He also teamed up with a local greengrocer to offer fruit and vegetables as well, including free delivery for local customers. ‘Of all our orders in April, about 95% were new customers from all over the country. I had several calls from people in London telling me there was nowhere they could get meat.’ Adapting the business at speed was tricky and Tom found himself working 18-hour days. ‘We are still constantly refining things to increase the number of orders we can get out in a day.’ There were some customer service challenges along the way: ‘Coronavirus pushed all these new customers to us and some were expecting the product the next day, whereas our existing customers knew that they would usually have to wait.’ He used videos on social media to keep customers informed and share upbeat messages. Tom knows that he needs to maintain a healthy level of sales for all this effort and investment to pay off, rather than just satisfy a glut in demand. Happily, orders are still pouring in, with June sales predicted to double those of May. ‘I think people have seen the light – they don’t need to go and battle round the supermarkets,’ says Tom. ‘The business has grown from my passion, which I hoped people would buy into. Now we are seeing that people really do care about where their food is coming from, and the quality. It’s a good feeling.’

Growing business For Leicestershire arable farmers Leigh and Donya Donger, 2020 was already proving a challenge well before coronavirus struck. ‘The few winter crops that we managed to get in had a challenging start, as it was so wet,’ says Leigh. When the weather improved he could drill the spring crops – but the ensuing drought meant that those didn’t get off to a good start either. Next came an issue with cabbage stem flea beetle that affected their sideline in producing rapeseed oil. ‘Well over half our oilseed rape crop has died,’ says Leigh. ‘Overall this is one of the worst years we have known.’ It’s so bad that he is rethinking whether to grow rapeseed at all next year. The couple’s 1,500-acre arable farm lies in the shadow of Belvoir Castle and includes the Muston Meadows Site of Special Scientific Interest. Co-managed with English Nature, the meadows are host to 100 species of flowering plant, including the Amber-listed green-winged orchid, classified as Near Threatened. Volunteers recently estimated that there were 55,000 of these purple-flowered plants. While the coronavirus outbreak wasn’t the main source of problems on the arable side, it quickly began to affect the couple’s other farm-based businesses, which Donya was juggling while homeschooling their two older children and entertaining their two-year-old. These include producing honey from beehives on the family farm and a nearby wildflower farm, eggs from her 150 laying hens, and blackberry vinegar, which won a Great Taste Award last year. Recently Donya also started

‘Now we are seeing that people really do care about where their food is coming from, and the quality’ and ended up collecting and delivering 80 litres a week!’ This led to Donya offering delivery of their own products to Muston and the neighbouring village of Bottesford. ‘I was born and bred around here, so know a lot of the families. We have a lot of elderly people locally who are scared of the virus and don’t want to leave their homes.’ Donya has also been keen to help educate and entertain children while schools have been closed. At the start of lockdown she made videos of chicks hatching and wheat being grown on the farm: ‘My kids know where their food comes from, but so many children do not.’ Their honesty box system sold out of eggs every day during lockdown and this, alongside the surge of people wanting to buy local products, has encouraged Donya to bring forward plans for a small shop on the farm, which she hopes to open in the coming weeks. ‘It will start as an honesty shop in a spare shed, but we may try and make it into a full shop in the future,’ she says. ‘People have started realising they don’t need to go to the supermarkets – they can use small local businesses. One positive from all this is that it has raised awareness of local products, and the importance of supporting local producers.’

Do you know any farming heroes and heroines? Tell us more at cpre@thinkpublishing.co.uk

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‘We need to exchange knowledge to improve countryside access’ Countryside champion Maxwell Ayamba has helped connect hundreds of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) people with the outdoors – here, he explains why it matters

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Maxwell Ayamba is a journalist and academic who set up the Sheffield Environmental Movement to work with BAME communities.

I grew up in rural Ghana, where we were taught to revere nature and see ourselves as its custodians. We didn’t see it as something for conservation, leisure and recreation, but as a web of life, which we all belong to. Here, when I ask people what nature is, they tend to point to the trees outside; they don’t see themselves as part of nature, which is strange to me. Winning a scholarship to study journalism in Cardiff severed me from my own rural roots. My relationship with the English countryside began when I pursued my postgraduate studies in environmental management at Sheffield Hallam University. I was the only person of colour on the course, and I had a lot to learn about the ecology and cultural history of the countryside. But I fell in love with the Peak District during our field studies, and after graduation, I was involved in setting up an environmental charity to help more BAME people participate in the countryside. I set up a walking group, 100 Black Men Walk for Health, with two friends in 2004. We particularly wanted to promote walking among middle-aged black men, who are susceptible to diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as mental health issues. Today, younger people

and women have both joined the group, and it’s now known as Walk4Health. But its aim remains the same: to give people the opportunity to walk and talk. At a time when people’s health and wellbeing are closely linked to their access to green spaces, those things are more important than ever. I’m proud that our group inspired a play, Black Men Walking, that covered 500 years of black British history in the countryside. There was a BAME presence in rural England in Roman or Tudor times, but their narratives have not been recorded. By telling those stories, the play raised issues that are just as relevant today, when issues of race and national identity, and why Black Lives Matter, have come to the forefront. It’s often said that the countryside is open to all. But there are many barriers to access for BAME and lower-income communities. If you’ve grown up in a city and never been taken to visit these places by your parents, you may have no idea that they exist, or feel you have no right to go there. The cost of outdoor kit, and of travel, are also deterrents. Fear of experiencing racism is also a barrier. Sadly my research in BAME communities, as well as my own life, provides many examples of such experiences. I once took a group of Asian lads to Losehill Hall in the Peaks, and a bottle of water was thrown at us from a passing car. My group has been approached by the police on one of their walks and asked about thefts from cars. Many people have similar stories to tell. Then there are the subtle reminders that you stick out in the countryside. I was once posing for a photo with our walking group at

Mam Tor, when I noticed a lady secretly take a picture of us. When I asked why, she said she had never seen so many black people out in the countryside. Experiences of being stared at and singled out can also discourage people from wanting to go to these places. Some of the Windrush generation have never set foot in the countryside. Migrants and those living in urban communities often have a daily struggle in terms of jobs, health, education, and everything else, and the last thing on their minds is recreation. Last year, I took a group of older black women to the Great Yorkshire Show. Some had been living nearby for 50 years, yet they’d never been to anything like it. I love seeing how excited people get when they have the opportunity to explore the countryside for the first time. I always want to discover new places. When you lead group walks, you always need new trails and new spaces to explore. For myself and the missus, one of our local Sheffield favourites is the old Roman road leading up to Fox House – the views are breathtaking. We need joined-up thinking to achieve CPRE’s goal of improving access to the countryside for all. Groups like CPRE need to reach out and build trust with communities that have traditionally been excluded from the countryside and the environmental sector. Large organisations and policymakers need to partner with smaller community and BAME groups (which often lack resources, staff and a seat at the table), to exchange knowledge, increase participation in the natural world, and change hearts and minds. Otherwise, we’ll still be speaking about these issues in 100 years’ time.

The ancient route from Sheffield to Hathersage, widely known as the old Roman road, is a favourite walk of Maxwell’s

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Barton Bridge has never been subject to vehicular traffic

Stonemason Andrew Ziminski has worked on some of England’s greatest buildings and monuments – here, he shares the secrets of some of his own favourite landmarks around the country

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WILTSHIRE We’ve restored many old packhorse bridges, and this one is perhaps my favourite. It was built on the instruction of the Abbess of Shaftesbury, the richest woman in the country during the 14th century, who wanted to get her grain across the River Avon to the great tithe barn at Bradford, which, like the bridge, still stands to this day. The town corporation owned the only local bridge and charged a toll, so she obviously thought ‘I’m going to build my own!’ The bridge had barely been touched since it was built around 1330 and was in need of some care and repair. It was home to a population of Daubenton’s bats, so we’d be working on a pontoon on the river with the bats flying out over our heads. An ecologist was on hand to check they’d safely left their roost holes before we carried out repairs. We left them two new roosts (one for males, one for females and young, as this species roosts separately), and they repopulated the bridge straight away. As conservators, we’re not just restoring the built environment, but everything else that goes with it too.

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Set in stone

Barton Bridge, Bradford-on-Avon


Avebury Chapel WILTSHIRE My number-one monumental site is the Avebury complex, and in particular, the former United Reformed Chapel that sits inside the Neolithic stone circle. It was the first church restoration that my partner and I took on, around 25 years ago. The main medieval church in Avebury was built outside the circle – perhaps the paganism associated with the site still held some sway. But the Dissenters who put up the chapel in 1665 clearly hated the paganism around them so much that they defiantly sited their place of worship right in the middle of the ancient henge, and smashed up many large sarsen stones from the site to build it. I love the way the chapel draws upon this ancient, deep past we have no concept of, and repurposes it. It was great to get to know the wider Avesbury landscape, too, such as West Kennet Long Barrow. Built around 3,650BC, this Neolithic burial chamber is really the first structure in the country that can qualify as architecture: Britain’s first building!

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Square & Compass pub, Worth Matravers

In his 30-year career as a stonemason, Andrew Ziminski has helped conserve everything from prehistoric monoliths to Roman baths. He is the author of The Stone Mason: A History of Building Britain (John Murray, £20), out now.

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Denge sound mirrors, Dungeness

I did all my training around the Isle of Purbeck, where the Square & Compass sits at the head of a combe, looking down to the sea. Named after the traditional mason’s tools, it has always been the stonemasons’ pub, and in better years it holds an annual stone-carving festival. Now a listed building, the ancient pub has a slate roof, stone floors, and no bar, just a serving hatch. Along with my local, it’s one of the places I’ve really been missing and looking forward to revisiting during lockdown. I’ve spent some very interesting evenings there. People actually talk to you – and they always have interesting stories to tell.

KENT These concrete listening posts were built as part of Britain’s defensive strategy after World War I. The idea was that you could hear large groups of aircraft taking off from France, but of course they were superseded by radar. Now these massive structures are simply stood there, amplifying the birdsong from the surrounding bird reserve. Although I’ve only visited once, long ago, this weird place had a profound effect on my imagination.

Hardknott Roman Fort, Eskdale

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CUMBRIA What’s interesting about Roman architecture is that it’s all built to the same standard. You can go to Bath or Rome, to Egypt or Syria, and the ruins might be local stone, but the mix of water and plaster in the cement is just the same. That engineering knowledge allowed them to build cities and roads and bridges; it’s what enabled them to conquer the world. Hardknott is a classic Roman ruin: the playing cardshaped plan of the fort itself is very apparent, as the walls have survived to a good height – you can trace the old bathhouse, the officers’ quarters, and so on. But it’s the intensely romantic nature of the site, on the old Roman road through the Eskdale Valley to Ravenglass, that is thrilling. I visited when the wind was blowing hard and the rain was coming down horizontally. You can’t help but imagine the hardy chaps from the Balkans who were once garrisoned here – and wonder what they thought of this remote outpost of the Roman Empire.

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Summer in Benedict’s beloved orchard

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he heart of summer, and as coronavirus restrictions lift, I have escaped at last. The mind lifts. The spirits soar as I reach my orchard – or, at least, the orchard I am graciously allowed to share. And to my delight, the gate to the old hop-kilns is crowned with a spotted flycatcher. Vanishing as fast as the honeybees she hunts, this female has returned from the depths of Africa. And, as in the year before, and the year before that, she will nest within the space of a missing brick; in the walls of the hop-kiln itself. Like many of the ancient rhythms of the orchard, the return of this precious, declining bird is special. It grounds me in a moment: a moment that my grandchildren may never enjoy.

diversity; innovation with tradition. And from where I stand, this life-fizzing orchard delivers on all fronts. As productive as any intensive farm, soon the orchard will yield 100 tonnes of organic fruit. But it will yield a lot more besides. New broods of tawny owls; new generations of hornets; a new family of swallows: the bounty of the orchard is diverse. As I linger beside an old pear tree, a cuckoo sweeps through the orchard. Soon, she too will be gone. But in the nests of dunnocks, tucked deep within the log-piles, the progeny of her hosts will survive.

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Nature’s bounty

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Fruit forests

A ripe future?

Orchards provide a sharing arrangement between people and wildlife, of a richness that few, of my generation, will ever pause to savour. In their deep cavities, tawny owls and hornets, redstarts and stock doves make their home. In mistletoe clusters, mistle thrushes and blackcaps find their winter food. As the limbs of saddened apple trees fall and die, beetles, lichens, woodpeckers and fungi come to thrive. Come autumn, the primates that made their home here 900,000 years ago (the most adaptable and resilient species of them all) turn produce into profit. From where I stand, orchards should not be the relict museums of our countryside. They should be the backbone of its future. As the sun sets, we crack open an amber cider cask. We drink to the future – and pray we are not drinking to the past.

Naturalist and writer Benedict Macdonald raises a toast to orchards, one of England’s disappearing treasures

Visiting an ancient Herefordshire orchard is like visiting an art gallery where just a handful of paintings now survive. Much as we praise traditional orchards, they are headed for extinction by 2050 – as surely as the spotted flycatchers that haunt their trees and the walls of the hop-kilns beside. At some deranged point in our history, we decided that the fruit forests that give us apples, pears, cherries, cider, apple-wood and charcoal should no longer be funded and supported. In 1600, Herefordshire was one continuous orchard. Now, only precious remnants stand tall. We remain optimistic. The future of Britain’s farming lies in combining productivity with

WIN! A COPY OF ORCHARD: A YEAR IN ENGLAND’S EDEN Benedict Macdonald is a conservation writer, wildlife television director and passionate naturalist. His latest book Orchard: A Year in England’s Eden (£20, William Collins), a celebration of

orchards co-written with fellow naturalist, producer and vlogger Nicholas Gates, is out on 20 August. We have five copies to give away. For your chance to win one, email your name and address to

cpre@thinkpublishing.co.uk with ‘Orchard’ as the subject heading, or send a postcard with those details to CPRE/Orchard, Think, Capital House, 25 Chapel Street, London NW1 5DH by 31 October 2020.

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