Tag Archives: commons

The Island by Francis Brett Young

To think what England once had been,
When such poor folk, by right of birth,
Claimed an inalienable share
And tenure of their native earth;
When even the least enjoyed the yield
Of labour in the common field,
And kept his pig, and grazed his cow,
And gathered firewood on the waste
To warm his bones in Winter. Now
The hirelings of a heartless caste,
Owners of factories and mills,
Puffed with undigested pride,
And flushed by the tax-eater’s greed,
Have stolen half the countryside
With their accursed Enclosure Bills;
While humble folk who’ve earned the meed
Of painful husbandry, despoiled
Of their scant share of paradise,
See high park-walls and paling rise
About the land where once they toiled.
Now the mantrap’s iron teeth
Lurk in the woods and on the heath,
And never a rabbit or a hare
Sweetens the labourer’s skimpy fare-
Though men with hunger-hollowed eyes
Hear the grai-fed pheasant’s cries
Taunting their stomachs as they gaze
Disheartened on the dwindling blaze
That lights their cheerless chimney-side,
And shiver.

Francis Brett Young (29 June 1884 – 28 March 1954) was an English novelist, poet, playwright, composer, doctor and soldier – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Brett_Young – he wrote The Island in 1944.

Cotters and Squatters by Colin Ward

This book is magnificent and tragically out of press with second hand copies going for silly money. I’ve tried to persuade the publisher to re-issue it or to make it available digitally but to no avail yet. Succint, throughly readable and utterly compelling, I hope your local library can sort you out with a copy.

Squatters were the original householders, and this book explores the story of squatter settlements in England and Wales, from our cave-dwelling ancestors to the squeezing out of cottagers in the enclosure of the commons.

There is a widespread folk belief that if a house could be erected between sundown and sunset the occupants had the right to tenure and could not be evicted. Often enquiry into the manorial court rolls shows this to be the case. Unofficial roadside settlements or encroachments onto the ‘wastes’ between parishes provided space for the new miners, furnacemen and artisans who made the industrial revolution, while cultivating a patch of ground and keeping a pig and some chickens. Colin Ward’s book, full of local anecdote and glimpses of surviving evidence, links the hidden history of unofficial settlements with the issues raised by 20th century squatters and the 21st century claims that ‘The Land is Ours’.

Colin presents a wealth of fascinating anecdote, analysis and polemic highlighting the sheer variety of ways individuals have created sustainable homes and livelihoods in nooks and crannies at the margins of society.” Regeneration and Renewal

“Rural squatters are now only a footnote in social history. Their families built themselves a house on some unregarded patch of land… For years, the environmental humanist Colin Ward has tried to rescue such people from the mythology of heritage museums, the indulgences of romantic novelists and the dust of local archives; and to draw lessons from them for today. Cotters and Squatters is the latest vivid instalment of his campaign.” The Independent

“Ward is not averse to a little squalor, or at least untidiness.The modern countryside is altogether too neatly packaged and sewn-up for the benefits of the well-off, he feels. Overzealous planning laws, and what he calls “the suffocating nimbyism of the countryside lobby, with its Range Rover culture,” are dismissed as an affront to rural history. His new book is an exploration of the long struggle of the rural poor to acquire and keep a roof over their heads.” The Guardian

War in Syria, land and agribusiness

This is an excellent read by Jonathon Porritt exploring the overlap between land, agribusiness, war and migration. It includes the following quote by Megan Perry:
https://www.forumforthefuture.org/blog/re-inventing-limits-growth-debate

“The (Syrian) Government had been pursuing a policy of agricultural intensification and economic liberalisation, based on the expansion of irrigated crops for export such as wheat and cotton that were reliant on chemical fertilisers. The chemical inputs and monocultural cropping contributed to the degradation of Syria’s soils, while poor irrigation infrastructure led to salinization, particularly in areas such as the Euphrates. And with the Government’s decision to cut subsidies to fertiliser, diesel, pesticides and seeds in the 2000s, many small-scale farmers could no longer afford the inputs on which their crops had come to depend.

Syria’s grazing land also struggled under intensification. Former Bedouin commons had been opened up to unrestricted grazing, turning the fragile ecosystem of the Syrian steppe, an area that covers half the country’s land mass, into an eroded desert. In 1950, there were three million sheep grazing the steppe, but by 1998, there were over fifteen million.”

That particular tale is all too familiar in all too many countries – and there are many experts in the world of mainstream agribusiness who are still keen to do exactly the same across the whole of Africa, regardless of the vast weight of evidence we now have as to the calamitous consequences of that process of intensification.

The calamity in Syria could not be starker, with 80% of the remaining population facing dire poverty, with sky-rocketing food prices, and with all factions involved in the conflict using ‘food as a weapon’ to secure their military objectives.