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THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE COULD RETURN TO WHAT IT WAS IN THE DAYS OF WILLIAM II - A PATCHWORK OF WOODLAND AND HEATH

OPINION

It seems farming is currently a hot topic in the media. Radio programmes and newspapers have brought into question the very future of farming as an industry in England.

I have no idea whether or not farming will disappear, but I was surprised to discover that it was a debate at all.

For the first time, I realised that when we refer to farming as an industry it could be seen as yet another casualty of the transition towards a post-industrial society.

What would be the implications for the landscape if farming did become extinct?

It's certain that farmers would start to use their land in other ways. As the familiar tilled divisions broke down and reverted to a more natural evolution towards deciduous woodland, the opportunity for picnics would increase dramatically. Charging £1 per head per picnic might become a familiar procedure, thereby privatising the traditional rural idyll. The increased cover of vegetation would also provide greater invisibility for clandestine hunts.

For sure, there would be a restoration of the flora and fauna which, together with an increase in diverse tree cover, would be beneficial to the environment. Streams and rivers would not be polluted by fertilisation and crop spraying.

The downside would be that we would be condemned to the constant importing of out-of-season foreign fruit and veg - which is happening anyway - and all the pollution of the transport that brings.

Apart from the above, what other changes might occur at a social level?

When technological advances removed hay bales and haystacks from our landscape in favour of the roll, the visual nostalgic links to idyllic days of youth on the farm were immediately replaced by a stunning modern image of studded fields casting long shadows in the evening sunshine.

Clearance of hedges was followed by their replanting.

All these images give rise to the idealised notion of a particularly 'English' countryside and the concept of the farmer as custodian of our heritage. Our countryside could return to what it was in the days of William II: a patchwork of woodland and heath.

Ultimately, this would turn the 86 per cent of the country that is not urban into a regeneration wonderland, which would be a stark contrast to the ever-increasing density of the urban centres. It would take some time for farming to cease, and by then the 20th-century model of suburbia for living would already have given way to its 21st-century substitute, with new remote spots of high density (the new village), which would exist in a context of the new wilderness.

In time, the typical English landscape would become rolling woodland interspersed with dreaming towers recalling a new romantic vision. There will be much work for the architect, the gardener and guerrilla farmers.

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