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The countryside belongs to all of us, not just the farmers

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Foot-and-mouth not only afflicts cattle. Since the outbreak started it has stopped people using their feet and, more significantly, has given rise to some of the most obscure misinformation by mouth. I am still confused about the best use of vaccination, whether funeral pyres are really no worse than bonfire nights or indeed if the consumption of meat is either necessary or desirable.

The most nonsensical thing I have heard was a gentleman on Radio 4 arguing that the British countryside would be destroyed if farming went into decline.He believed that farmers were not only custodians of our rural pastures, but also the protectors of flora and fauna. This is plainly not true. I recall vast chunks of East Anglia in the '60s being stripped of their hedgerows (some ancient) in the name of larger fields and greater efficiency. Not only did this dramatically change the landscape, it succeeded in killing most of the local wildlife and creating dust bowls within 10 years.

All this destruction for short-term gain.

Today, many of the hedges are, or have been, replanted. Farmers close footpaths, take short cuts in animal welfare, turn our livestock into cannibals and, in collaboration with our supermarkets, produce food which does not taste good, at artificially high prices.

Our farmers are not the custodians of the countryside. We all pay substantial taxes to subsidise the food-producing activity that appears to have let us down.The fallow patches which result from a policy of setaside have transformed many parts of our non-urban environment into better habitats for wildlife.

There is no earthly reason why we should subsidise an industry that is incapable of managing itself. Why should farmers be treated differently from coal-miners or steelworkers? Get on your tractors and plough new furrows. Many farmers could be ably employed giving aid and advice to some African states or large chunks of the former Soviet Union. But at home their land would revert to wilderness.

If we are to have higher density cities the role of the non-city needs to be examined. At present, much of our land is either inaccessible or uninteresting. We would be able to provide places for reflection, exercise and solitude. If farming dwindled, the value of agricultural land would decline, which, combined with tighter restrictions on planning permission outside urban areas, would drive down values further. Under these circumstances the land could return to public ownership and be managed by one of the existing agencies. It would become a natural resource that would benefit tourism and the rural economy and give therapy to stressed city dwellers. The UK could become the first post-industrial and post-agricultural nation.

I do not believe that farming should disappear altogether. I see a place for smaller farms working collectively to supply high-quality goods to markets that they control. This would ensure that we maintain the luxury of eating produce in season, even if the product is mis-shapen. It is still delicious.

Perhaps malformed produce will become a sign of quality.

Repton and Brown need to be challenged. I see a countryside of wilderness, punctuated by orchards, wildlife trails, birds, danger and beauty - served by trains, bicycles and car parks. This resource, currently expensively mismanaged, is potentially on the verge of the second agricultural revolution.

Will Alsop from seat no 6C, flight number BA 696 London-Vienna

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