If you are able to make it out safely, please come. The temperature is staying at a dazzling 2-3 degrees tonight so no black ice
As ever we have much to learn and be inspired by from our neighbours to the north.
Last week marked the 15th anniversary of the 2003 Scottish land reform act and an event to mark this was held at the Scottish Parliament.
BBC Scotland has made a lovely 70min radio documentary about this, which interviews many of the people key to the reform bill happening – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02nrtq1/episodes/downloads
It is primarily focused on the right to roam aspect of the act and it gives the best insight into how key battles were won of anything i’ve seen, heard or read.
This is taken from Steve Wyler’s latest book called ‘In Our Hands’, not to be confused with the recent Landworkers’ Alliance film of the same name!
The above (from page 73) is a good example of how strong the connection was between the foundations of the coop movement and the desire of people to be free of hideous urban slum conditions and return to a rural agricultural existence.
Robin Grey speaks with Christopher Price, Director of Policy for the Countryside Landowners Association about farm subsidies, land value tax, GMO, Right to Roam, open data and the Land Registry, fracking and more.
This extract taken from ‘The Making Of The English Landscape’ by W.G. Hoskins is brutal and telling.
We had the privilege of sharing a stage today with a hero of ours, the historian Peter Linebaugh… Here is a cheeky selfie of us in front of the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest.
Peter was a student of E.P. Thompson’s in the 70s and has written some wonderful books including ‘The Many Headed Hydra’ which I hope many of your will have read or know about…
Robin and Roo will be leading a sing-a-long this Sunday by The Major Oak in Sherwood Forest to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter Of The Forest and linking this to land rights, fracking and universal basic income in our present day.
What’s the Charter Of The Forest, I hear you say… see hear for more information… https://thenewputneydebates.com/
Nick Hayes just put me on to this amazing page about the Newton Rebels of 1607 in Northamptonshire which was part of the Midlands Revolt concerning enclosure. Have a look at the photos from their 400th anniversary in 2007
The Green Backyard in Peterborough have just signed a 12 year lease, winning an amazing victory saving land from some dubious business people and a council which has some amazing people in it …and others with more questionable motives. Read about it in the Peterborough Telegraph:
The Ballad of the Green Backyard
In twenty zero eight, two enterprising souls
Set to work to realise their very worthy goals
They met allies and met baddies, now listen as i tell
A tale of Peterborough’s finest and some pond scum straight from hell
There’s pair of Antonelli’s, both grafters through and through
Give them tools and wellies… there is nothing they can’t do
I sure want them on my team when we build the barricades
As we fight the fight for all that’s right with rascals and comrades
Three cheers for the green backyard, ’tis a glorious hour for people power
On two acres of good land that never knew concrete
They set to work creating a paradise complete with
Veg and flowers and people, and ponds and compost loos
But a few in power (with faces sour) had some other views
In twenty and eleven, the council battle began
Machen and Kneally, they worked an evil plan
And we mustn’t forgot Cereste, they don’t get more corrupt
Someone should him soon arrestie, cos he’s such an evil fuck ….refrain
But in our growers’ corner we’ve Gillian Beasly who was
A very early ally and the council chief exec too!
And props to Jay and Allan, more people joined the team
Now the scene is set, the players met, all captured in one tune
We mustn’t forget ‘Metal’, who invite arty sorts
And let them loose around here, to sow creative thoughts
Like ‘if this were to be lost’ and ‘this land is our land’
And ‘people before profit when when we all together stand’ ….refrain
‘For sale’ the sign was raised, this was a big mistake
Gave our growers marching orders, even set a date
But the town and country planning act, a couple of VIPs
Plus a tonne of people power brought the blighters to their knees
so to conclude my story, there’s still much work to do
but this is quite a victory, so credit where its due
and i hope our children’s children can be nurtured by this land
and people far from peterborah will know of this fine stand ….refrain
Someone shared this on social media yesterday and I just want to bookmark it here quickly as it looks like a gold mine.
I’m not sure yet how relevant it is to the current show but if we end up working with our Scottish and Irish friends, this looks like a good place to start exploring due to the way it is indexed.
The parent part of the site also has lots of interesting stuff on it. What I love about this so much is that it is still in super old HTML style which means it is so much easier to navigate and search than all this fancy, flashing, fancy pants and usually pointless web design which is currently the fashion!
I’ve just finished reading these three excellent booklets about enclosure and the open field system in East Yorkshire… Two were written in late 1950s and the third in the mid eighties. All were thoroughly researched, succinct and insightful.
I missed this last month but never to late to learn about the amazing work of trade unionist and labour rights Don Pollard who died in August. #legend
‘The trade unionist and labour rights activist Don Pollard, who has died aged 80, was one of the driving forces behind the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004, legislation brought in by the British government to curb the exploitation of agricultural and food workers in the UK.
It took the Morecambe Bay tragedy to bring his and fellow union organisers’ efforts to fruition. In 2004, 23 workers from China drowned after their gangmasters sent them cockle-picking in lethal tides. Some of the victims had been employed previously on farms in East Anglia, where Pollard had uncovered appalling conditions. His work had laid the ground for a coalition of unions, business, and MPs to push through the Labour MP Jim Sheridan’s private member’s bill introducing licensing to the gangmaster sector.’
Eight shillings a week
This dates from the winter of 1830, when starving farm-workers in the Southern Counties riotously demonstrated for a basic wage of a half a crown a day. They committed a breach of the peace but otherwise harmed no one, yet after the demonstrations three of them were hanged and over four hundred were transported. At that time a loaf of bread cost a shilling.
Come all you bold Britons where’re you may be,
I pray give attention and listen to me,
There once was good times but they’re gone by complete,
For a poor man now lives on eight shillings a week.
Such times in old England there never was seen,
As the present ones now but much better have been,
A poor man’s condemned and looked on as a thief.
And compelled to work hard on eight shillings a week.
Our venerable fathers remember the year,
When a man earned thee shillings a day and his beer,
He then could live well, keep his family all neat,
But now he must work for eight shillings a week
The nobs of old England of shameful renown,
Are striving to crush a poor man to the ground,
They’ll beat down his wages and starve him complete
And make him work hard for eight shillings a week.
A poor man to labour believe me ‘tis so,
To maintain his family is willing to go,
Either hedging or ditching, to plough or to reap,
But how does he live on eight shillings a week?
So now to conclude and finish my song,
May the times be much better before too long,
May each labouring man be able to keep,
His children and wife on twelve shillings a week.
Lovely track about the Swing Riots
In 1830, on November the 23rd, there was a riot in Owslebury. This was part of the wave of discontent among agricultural workers which had spread across southern England and expressed itself as the Swing Riots. A large mob formed and moved from farm to farm demanding money and threatening to destroy agricultural machinery. At Rosehill they assaulted Lord Northesk’s steward, Moses Stanbrook, wrecked a winnowing machine, and extorted £5. John Boyes, a local farmer, accompanied the mob demanding that farmers and landlords sign an undertaking which read “We, the undersigned, are willing to give 2s. per day to our married labourers, and 9s. per week to single men, in consideration of having our rent and tithes abated in proportion”. At Marwell Hall the lady of the house, Mrs. Alice Long, gave the mob £5 and signed John’s document. Eventually the mob retreated to Owslebury Down. Nine people had signed John Boyes’ document.
The rioters were tried in Winchester at the end of the year and several were executed. There was a good deal of sympathy for John Boyes and he was twice acquitted before eventually being found guilty and sentenced to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land for seven years. The trials were reported in The Times in December 1830 and January 1831. John Boyes did not complete his sentence. In 1835 the Home Secretary, Lord Melbourne, pardoned him and he returned home to his wife, Faith, and their children, in June of that year to continue farming in Owslebury. He died in Hensting in 1856.
Guy Shrubsole is doing some excellent work here digging into data to find out who owns our land – https://whoownsengland.org/2017/09/12/who-owns-england-one-year-on-what-we-now-know/
The CLA (the Country Land and Business Association previously the Country Landowners Association) has recently taken its history section off of its website. I think this is a shame as it makes for interesting reading. Luckily the internet archives much more than people realise, so without comment, here it is for your reading pleasure:
Charles Clover looks at the origins of the CLA –
In the Beginning
To open the huge, leather-bound volumes, smelling faintly of mildew, that contain the glossy monochrome pages of Country Life magazine from 1907, the year the body that was to become the CLA was founded, is to glimpse a vanished world.
I am in my forties, yet my father was an Edwardian, born in 1903. I shot with him once before he died, so the gents in tweeds demonstrating how to shoot birds on the left without moving the feet (or taking the pipe out of the mouth) do not seem so very far distant.
Country Life offers an editorial about “The cost of owning an estate”, a fascinating insight into the rural economy of the time. The owner of the estate used as an example gave employment to 74 men, excluding tenants. The total was made up as follows: house and stables, 26; garden, 20; keepers, 3; labourers, 22.
Such an estate might have been worth £250,000 to £500,000 at 1907 prices, its outgoings added up to £14,370 compared with a total income of £14,900. Then, as now, the ownership of land was not likely to attract capitalists who were not born into it as a way of life – unless for social reasons, or for sport.
The three decades leading up to the foundation of what became known as the Central Land Association (to distinguish it from county associations) were a hard, often profitless time for agriculture, caused by the global marketplace of the British Empire.
Home-produced wheat hit its lowest price for 150 years in 1894.
For the countryside the years before the First World War were a time of political and financial uncertainty. A number of rural interests felt the need to band together to make sure their views were represented, or saw the opportunity to exert more influence.
In 1907 came a pamphlet, The Land and the Social Problem, by Algernon Tumor, a high-ranking civil servant and former private secretary to Benjamin Disraeli. In it, he criticised British agriculture for failing to adapt to changing conditions and blamed politicians for their lack of foresight in their treatment of the industry. He advocated the co-operation of owners, tenants and workers in the common interest. His manifesto represented the conception of the CLA.
Copies of the pamphlet were circulated to general approval and a meeting was held on April 19th, 1907, in the junior Carlton Club. Those present were well-connected and had between them a wealth of political experience. It was chaired by Walter Long, a patrician Tory and former President of the Board of Agriculture under Lord Salisbury.
The minutes, in his handwriting, still exist in an exercise book in Reading’s Museum of English Rural Life.
Present beside Tumor were the fourth Earl of Onslow, the Earl of Harrowby and several MPs and landowners including Christopher Tumor, nephew of Algernon, a large Lincolnshire landowner and author of several books on agriculture. The meeting decided to appoint officers of what was initially proposed to be called the Landholders’ Central Association. From the beginning the association tended to be an organisation of owners and land agents – other interests having their own organisations. The National Farmers’ Union – developed from the Lincolnshire Farmers Union – was founded within a year of the CLA in 1908.
On the face of it, the survival of such an organisation after a century would appear to be surprising, given that the world that gave birth to is has vanished utterly. I suspect the clue to the CLA’s survival goes back to that original meeting and the thinking of its founders, who decided that they would engage with the interests of the day in a liberal, forward-thinking way, and not as a club of reactionaries. Lord Onslow, its first chairman, said of the Landowners’ Central Association: “It will endeavour to get rid of a rather stick-in-the-mud attitude on the part of some landowners…if we agree upon a constructive and progressive policy we shall have nothing to fear in the future.” Those still sound like wise words as the CLA enters its second century.
History of the CLA – The assault on land, 1907 – 2007
Looking back on a century of landowners trying to influence the political ideas of the day, it is remarkable how many policies – such as a tax on land – are cyclical, returning in various guises, often without success. Yet it is also worth celebrating the ultimate demise of a really bad idea from the years of the great ideological divide, land nationalisation.
As we now know, this idea caused poverty and squalor wherever it was tried, in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe and even Kenneth Kaunda’s Zambia as late as 1970. It exercised the founders of the CLA for more than 30 years. We owe it to their good sense that it was not tried here.
The frontal attack on private property was seldom as fierce as after the Liberal landslide of 1906. The followers of the Liberal Chancellor, Lloyd George, openly favoured land nationalisation, following penal taxation. The first was seen off, but not the latter.
The CLA’s founders, including the Earl of Onslow, its chairman, and its president, Walter Long, wisely did not engage in partisan attacks. They successfully argued for Lloyd George to deduct maintenance when assessing estate income. Meanwhile two committees appointed by the Liberal Government reported in 1912 and 1913 in favour of state ownership of land, as a panacea for depression in agriculture and supposed insecurity of tenure.
These were worrying times for the CLA, as its annual report acknowledged in 1912:
“Probably at no time in the history of our country has there been a greater need for a strong non-party organisation to watch over and safeguard the interests of agriculture and to form and develop a sound and progressive land policy…By this means only will it be possible successfully to meet the attack directed against the landed interest by those who, without knowledge or experience of rural conditions and for reasons quite unconnected with the welfare of the industry, seek to make sweeping and revolutionary changes which, it is believed, would be disastrous, not only to agriculture, but to the country generally.”
To add insult to injury, CLA members felt its leaders had failed to state their case forcibly enough at a crucial time and membership fell.
The First World War killed off Lloyd George’s land taxation plans. It briefly strengthened the fortunes of agriculture and convinced the CLA that it needed to be more organised in representing landowners, rather than tenants and farm workers. Nevertheless, the renamed Central Landowners’ Association was confronted by Lloyd George’s National Government in 1920 with the decision to withdraw support for agriculture. There followed a decade and a half of agricultural recession.
The CLA had its victories, the greatest of which, the de-rating of agricultural land and buildings, came about in the 1928 budget. Its membership was bolstered by thousands of new owner occupiers – one of the many reasons why by the mid 1930s land nationalisation had faded into the background. But over the interwar years, and worse still in the years following the Second World War when many country houses were demolished, the break up estates through taxation and death duties had wide repercussions.
Employment in agriculture tumbled. Crafts died out. Estates became dependent on mass-produced materials from outside. Instead of nationalisation, we got a halfway house for bankrupt estates, the National Trust. Was this really desirable?
Over a century, you could argue that landowners have escaped the worst. The urban masses no longer want to appropriate their land. In part this is due to the pragmatic lobbying skills of the CLA, which have been respected by politicians of both sides. But the landowner has found himself bound increasingly, like Gulliver, by a multiplicity of gossamer threads which affect his freedom to use the land and even his leisure.
Trespassers may legally be shot under a number of circumstances in the United States and South Africa. In Britain the rights of landowners have always been more tenuous. Over here, landowners have to think hard before uttering the words: “Get off my land!” if they dare do it at all.
You might wonder why public access to the countryside has been such a bone of contention over the last century, and so time-consuming for the CLA. The proximity of the industrial towns, with their burgeoning populations, to the high moors and fells was the flashpoint for change. Access to the hills became the focus of ideological protest after the First World War, culminating in the great mass trespass in 1932 on the Duke of Devonshire’s land at Kinder Scout, part of the Dark Peak, in which five ramblers were sent to jail for up to six months after an affray with gamekeepers.
The Hobhouse committee set up by the post-war Attlee government recommended in 1947 not only the creation of national parks, but also public access to the open countryside. This led to the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act of 1949, in which open country was defined as mountain, moor, heath, down, cliff and foreshore. The amazing thing is that a government otherwise hell-bent on nationalising promised to pay landowners compensation for giving up their right to exclude people from land not on a right of way.
The leaders of the CLA were probably too pressed dealing with the thicket of legislation produced by that Labour Government, which included the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act and the 1947 Agriculture Act, to do more than utter a quick sigh of relief. They did take the lead in urging the Government to write and publicise a Country Code, urging people to kept to footpaths, close gates, keep their dogs under control and put out picnic fires.
The Country Code had to be revised when the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 received royal assent. In one of his more brilliant coups-de-theatre Tony Blair appointed Ewen Cameron, now Lord Cameron, a former president of the CLA, to head the Countryside Agency charged with bringing in the new right. It is probably the case that the right came in more sensitively as a result – though the biggest rollbacks came from individual landowners on appeal.
The Greening of Farm Policy
It is a measure of the influence of the CLA that what it has called on governments for the past 25 years to do – replacing subsidies for food production with support for farming aimed at benefiting the wider rural environment and economy – has now come to be the “direction of travel” for the three main parties.
The story of the greening of farm policy is one of the little-known achievements of Britain’s landowning organisation, and it is a story worth telling, not only because it is, perhaps, unexpected, but because it is so seldom told. One reason is the CLA’s sensitive relationship with the National Farmers’ Union, set up in 1908.
The distinction between the two organisations was relatively obvious at the beginning. The CLA, by and large, represented landlords. It began at a disadvantage, and has had to trust to the persuasiveness of its brightest thinkers instead of megaphone diplomacy. The NFU, at the beginning, represented farmers, then overwhelmingly tenants.
Now over 60 percent of CLA members own 100 acres of less, and only 4 percent own 1,000 acres or more. Many farmers and landowners are members of both bodies. But the distinction between the CLA’s outlook and that of the NFU remains. As someone put it: “The NFU are the profit and loss account. The CLA are the balance sheet.”
In other words, the people who arguably worry most about protecting their assets, which also happen to be the country’s and the countryside’s, are those who would like to believe their offspring will be managing them in 50 years time. From the first, the CLA was far closer than the NFU to being an environmental organisation.
For its first 50 years the CLA was largely preoccupied with ownership issues: land nationalisation, land tax, death duties, forestry, the de-rating of agricultural tenancies and the removal of tithes. Then, as now, landowners derived much of their income from outside farming. Indeed, there is some evidence to show that in all but a few boom years of the last century, non-farming activities have produced more income.
The relationship to farming changed, however, in 1947, when landowners were given statutory recognition and new duties as partners in the drive for greater home food production under the Labour government’s Agriculture Act. The priority was growing cheap food for a starving and bankrupt Europe. There began the post-war extension of the dig-for-victory era, which lasted 30 years.
These years saw great changes. Hedges were pulled out, wetlands drained, watercourses dredged and canalised and millions of acres of moorland and permanent pasture were “improved” by farmers with grants from the Ministry of Agriculture, sometimes to the rueful regret of landlords.
The crucial change came in 1973 with UK entry into the Common Market. In Brussels, there was a growing sense that the EU budget was limited. Its finance ministers looked for an excuse to deal with excessive spending of agriculture and the resultant butter and grain mountains and wine, milk and olive oil lakes.
Around the early 1980s the CLA became, by reason of its culture, the purveyor of solutions to a political class that had decided things could not go on as they were. A recurrent theme among progressive landowners and leaders of the CLA was the feeling that: “I think I’m damn good at what I do. If my neighbour farms very badly, but you continue subsidising him to farm in that way, you will eventually put me out of business.” Then as now, the CLA’s predisposition was towards the classical Anglo-American case for free enterprise and free trade.
In the late 1980s the CLA published a paper which argued that public subsidy purely for production should be switched to a menu of environmental services. At the time I wondered how realistic they were, and whether anyone was listening.
It turns out they were pushing at an open door in MAFF. Reform started in the second half of the 1980s with the Alure (Agriculture, Land Use and the Rural Environment/Economy) package, the abolition of production grants, the creation of environmentally sensitive areas, the Farm Woodland Scheme and the subtle introduction of the “duty clause” in the 1986 Agriculture Act, which meant the ministers had for the first time to have regard to the wider rural economy, the enjoyment of the countryside by the people, and the rural environment. The support of the CLA gave the ministers of the time confidence to push the measures through.
When you look back to the late 1980s today, agricultural reform seems to have moved at a glacial pace. Environmental groups would argue that vastly more money needs to be moved from Pillar I, production support, to Pillar II, environment and rural development. But the developed world has accepted the argument that there should be free trade in agricultural goods and protection of the environment. And all who love the countryside can thank the CLA for its part in winning that argument.
This is an edited version of a series of articles written by Charles Clover to mark the centenary of the CLA.
Charles Clover is an environmental journalist, author, and columnist for The Sunday Times.
Planning and Conservation – the state weighs in
A J P Taylor wrote that before 1914 a law-abiding Englishman had little contact with the state. He could travel without a passport, own a weapon and, on his own land, shoot almost anything he liked and build what he wished.
This is the world into which the CLA was born in 1907. That the world has changed so much since is testament not only to the tightening grip of the state, but also to the growth of an increasingly wealthy middle class. The latter competed for the land previously under the control of aristocratic landowners, and had the time and resources to develop an interest in planning, animal welfare and nature conservation.
A pre-1914 landowner might find Parliament telling him he must sell land. That came with the increasing role of the state in providing public infrastructure. But by and large it did not tell him how to build on land he owned. That came with the post-war Attlee government and the Town and Country Planning Act 1947, the birth of the modern planning system.
The report of Lord Justice Scott’s committee, produced in 1942, had recommended that all new building should be in existing settlements unless there was some overwhelming reason why it should be in open countryside. Another of Scott’s recommendations was that fertile land should be retained in agricultural use. This, a novel idea at the time, was emphasised in the CLA’s evidence.
In case the 20th century looks like a story of constant encroachment of private rights by the state, it is worth celebrating one high water mark, Crichel Down. Crichel Down, near Wimborne in Dorset, was 300 acres of land owned by Mary Anna Marten. The land had been compulsorily purchased in 1937 as a bombing range for the Air Ministry. When it was no longer needed after the war, it was not offered back to the family, as it should have been by policy agreed by the Government at the time at the instigation of the CLA, but was passed to the Commissioner of Crown Lands, who found a new tenant.
Eventually, after local feeling had been whipped up, the press enlisted, and political connections utilised, Parliament came to realise that a major injustice had been perpetrated. The Conservative Minister of Agriculture, Sir Thomas Dugdale, was forced to order a public inquiry. The Martens got their land back.
Another succinct and damning article about Monsanto’s disregard for human life and our planet – examples like this show why we must fight tooth and nail to prevent them from taking over our food system…
Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington said: “At the same time that Monsanto was telling the public that that PCBs were safe, they were literally graphing their potential legal liability against the lost profits and public image boost that might accompany being responsible and honest. At the end of the day, Monsanto went for the profits instead of for public health and environmental safety.”
This BBC Radio 4 documentary is excellent – official blurb below – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08k15lh
Will Self walks the London green belt in search of the 1947 Town and Country Planning Act which optimistically tried to end the post-war British conflict between field and city. He retraces a countryside ramble he took with his father, the journalist, town planner and political scientist Peter Self – a leading exponent of the principles enshrined in the ’47 Act. Will argues that the public consensus to build a New Jerusalem has been squandered in the past seventy years, leading to the present day housing crisis. He goes back to first principles and argues that the offer made in 1947 by the Minister of Town and Country Planning, Lewis Silkin to build a better Britain is as relevant today as it was then. Will says that if it was an opportunity missed, then the fault doesn’t lie exclusively with the planning system, rather with our lack of desire to make the planning system work.
We had the pleasure of singing for Frack Free Lancashire and Reclaim The Power on Friday. During the show, Robin had an excuse to teach the audience a song he wrote for Newham Woodcraft Folk group last year called ‘Let’s Lock Ourselves Here For A While‘. Here are the lyrics and a recording so anyone who wants to learn it can:
I’ve a hundred old bike locks and they won’t undo
Any idea who I could give them to?
It’s a nice sunny day in the countryside
Lets lock ourselves here for a while
So sorry Mr Big Truck what is that you say
Something quite cross about us being in your way
The birds are enjoying the day from the trees
Lets lock ourselves here for a while
No we ain’t going nowhere, let’s climb up the trees
Someone must stick up for the birds and the bees
The poor have no lawyers, the trees have no rights
Lets lock ourselves here for a while
Mr blue badge and truncheon is also upset
Doesn’t seem that grace has quite got to him yet
Filmed by a smart phone as he beats up Dave
who locked himself here for a while
They arrested our Caroline it made the lead news
One day the greens will out number the blues
Well in the meantime we’ll do what we must
Lets lock ourselves here for a while
Mr suit and tie construction has a seat in the Lords
Our tattered democracy just filed for divorce
One day the people will speak out as one
until then we’ll be locked here a while