It now appears that more money is spent on more people involved in telling us how to run the countryside, than actually work in the countryside. Unless you are a university graduate the time will come when you won’t even be considered as a volunteer, let alone for a career in any part of countryside management.

In this issue Tony Ridd speaks to some of the key players involved in advising and maintaining the Island’s landscape.

As we have learnt, farmers are happy to take on the role of ‘custodians of the countryside’, but they are tightly governed and manipulated into what they grow, how much of their land they leave fallow, and the livestock they produce.

This control is further influenced by so called ‘consumer demand’ by the supermarkets. The majority of us shop at supermarkets because of the convenience and low prices. But are we really getting value for money and what is the cost to our landscape?

I spent a morning with a very busy David Langford, Regional Director for the CLA (Country Landowners Association) and recently appointed High Sheriff for the Island.

He explained to me that we have the most highly regulated farming community in the world, with all kinds of legislation that must be adhered to. Many of the agency people making decisions about agriculture have no practical farming experience and have never tried to earn a living from the land.

“We think the Isle of Wight is a rural county, but in reality very few people work on the land.

“We need to educate the public to ask where its food comes from and how it is produced. Eighty-five percent of all meat sold nationally is bought from supermarkets. Some of this 85{a9dddf1bd2af35332cd5613cac8e63e148b38f23ebed35c9943c32a7f65a9815} comes from foreign countries, the consumer having no idea of the conditions under which this livestock has been raised and what they have been injected with or fed.

The Isle of Wight has over 375 miles of well signed footpaths, excellently maintained by successive councils, and our network is said to be the best in the UK. Seventy-five percent of the country’s coastline is open to the public. So why do we need more access? Will this encourage more people into the great outdoors, probably not? Or will it damage the unspoilt and undisturbed habitats that currently exist, probably?

The Ramblers Association is a campaigning organisation that seems to lack flexibility. When an application to re-direct a footpath, be it for safety or privacy reasons, is submitted, the Association objects seemingly on the grounds of principal rather than practically. Many footpaths have been formed by farm workers walking to work each day; with virtually no farm worker now using them, it seems unrealistic to insist that nothing should change. Objections on principal cause increased costs and paperwork, which frustrates many applicants and deters the local council from following up sensible changes. There is often a lack of understanding of the pressures people have in the everyday running of the countryside. Farm land is not there just for enjoyment, but for someone to try to make a living.

“The countryside is about water and mud, and farm animals that poo all over the place – it’s rough and slippery underfoot, thorn bushes scratch you and gnats and mozzies bite you” said David, but that is part of the attraction and why it is different from the town. Why try to tidy up and urbanise the countryside with street lighting, metalled footpaths and cycleways and inappropriate ‘interpretation boards’?

“Land-ownership is a privilege, often accompanied by a struggling cash-strapped lifestyle, but most people try to leave the land in better condition for the next generation. This includes attracting wildlife to the land as most farmers appreciate the benefits of a healthy and varied biodiversity on their holding.”

Organisations like Natural England and especially the National Trust realise the importance that livestock play in maintaining the balance of nature in the countryside.

Tony Tutton, Property Manager for the National Trust on the Island explained they are generally a conservation charity and that ‘interaction is the key to good working practices’. He appreciated the Island has a vibrant and committed farming community and has forged partnerships with grazers to maintain land and allow farmers to profit.

On particularly difficult land that has a high conservation value, the National Trust has invested in their own livestock. There is a ‘flying flock’ of Hebredian sheep, which are moved around the Island and feral goats at Ventnor Down where a £40,000 investment of new fencing has just been completed to fence off 100 acres of downland, doubling the area currently grazed.

The National Trust has the luxury of owning its own land, and having a long term view with the ability to plan ahead and implement projects.

Tony said: “It’s easy to look at short term negative prospects, but being involved in landscape history, events change and so do the economic prospects. History shows us this. Farming of the land will always continue to a greater or lesser degree.” And as such people will continue to be able to enjoy the variety of wildlife and landscape features that the Island has to offer.