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24th April 2024 5:37 pm

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

Green Space, White Space, Grey Lies, a black day.

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I went with The Hon the other day to the funeral of Norman Thomas, a proper traditional country farmer. He was three times larger than life; he shot well, hunted hard, farmed profitably (largely thanks to land development), drank prodigiously, partied noisily, and loved horses and racing. (His daughter worked for us and was a joy, but she was a far better point-to-point trainer. She left us and has since won at Cheltenham. Such are the wonders of life.) Over 200 people gathered and saw him off, including jockeys, trainers, owners, racecourse directors, keepers, huntsmen, farmers, Kennel staff, Masters and neighbours. We listened to Kingy give a reading and another great countryman, Dickie Green give his eulogy. I gather the Wake was a hooley. Sadly, we missed it, but I had drunk with Norman when he was alive, and my liver still feels bruised.

Had he been alive the day before his funeral, he would have been on his feet and looking for his boots, because a charity umbrella group called The Wildlife and Countryside Link, whose members include the RSPCA, WWF and National Trust, claimed in a report (evidence is too strong a word for opinions) provided to parliament that:

“Cultural barriers reflect that in the UK, it is white British cultural values that have been embedded into the design and management of green spaces, and into society’s expectations of how people should be engaging with them…. racist colonial legacies continue to frame nature in the UK as a ‘white space’”, and claims that “the perception that green spaces are dominated by white people can prevent people from ethnic minority backgrounds from using green spaces”.

Link is headed by Richard Benwell, the White Male chief executive and a former Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate, who worked as a policy adviser to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs in 2018. Benwell told newspapers,

“Nature should be for everyone to enjoy and benefit from. Sadly, however, the evidence shows that people of colour in the UK are more likely to live in areas with less green space and that are more heavily polluted and natural spaces. There are multiple complex reasons behind this, as well as contemporary, well-documented experiences of racism that people are still encountering. Access for all and addressing the barriers people face should be a guiding light for all nature sites.”

I am not convinced that the current 82 member organisations had taken on board that being part of this jolly networking group would allow Mr Benwell the right to become so terribly involved in racial politics. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that this has been a legere de main by no more than a dozen people whose posturing self-righteousness deeply diminishes their purported environmental aspirations. I know I’m on the right path because after the “Countryside is Racist” media storm broke, “Busy” Benwell issued another press release that said:

“News reports from multiple media outlets about Wildlife and Countryside Link’s evidence on racism and the countryside have taken comments from an inquiry response to MPs and misrepresented them out of context. Coverage has also been inaccurate in listing National Trust, RSPCA and WWF as contributors to the evidence. None of those organisations were signatories to the response. Wildlife and Countryside Link does not believe the countryside is a racist, colonial, white space – as has been falsely reported by some media outlets – and neither do our members. However, we do recognise the immense challenges in making sure everyone feels welcome at nature sites, the historical issues contributing to this, and the fact that racism is still worryingly being experienced by some people of colour when accessing nature.”

So the 82 members had no say in it? Have the words in the report you signed off and presented – that specifically suggest that the countryside is “white” – been added later? Surely, The Link Trustees would have been informed of your intentions; after all, you’re talking to Parliament. You specifically highlight the National Trust in your press release, affirming that the NT, for example, had no say in the presentation of the evidence… yet as we can see from the list of Trustees, the Senior External Affairs Adviser and Senior policy wonk at the National Trust is a Trustee, and he didn’t know?

The current membership consists of the bodies and organisations that can be found on THIS ATTACHED LINK, (which will open in a separate window).

The Trustees (some affiliated to organisations that are members of Link) are:

  • Marcus Gilleard who is the Senior External Affairs Adviser and Senior Policy Programme Manager for The National Trust.
  • Dominic Dyer is a wildlife protection campaigner, writer and broadcaster. He is a policy advisor for the Born Free Foundation and chief executive of the Badger Trust.
  • Martin Spray CBE Chairperson at Wildlife & Countryside Link, Chair Butterfly Conservation, and former Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Chief Executive.
  • Margrit Alexandra “Sandy” Luk is CEO at the Marine Conservation Society
  • Sarah Ellen McMonagle is Director of External Affairs at Cycling UK. Prior to that, she was acting director of campaigns and policy at CPRE.
  • Nadia Shaikh is a naturalist, conservationist and land justice activist working with Right to Roam. Her mantra: “Decolonizing nature conservation. We all belong.”
  • Allison Claire Ogden-Newton is the CEO of Keep Britain Tidy
  • Jason Martin Reeves is Head of Policy at the Chartered Institute of Ecology and Environmental Management (CIEEM) and is the central contact point for the APPG for Nature led by Barry Gardiner MP.
Of course, they’re racists. They’re all in bed by 10 pm, and no nightclubs within 100 miles.

This is how you lose your culture, your identity, and the things you love. You let these purveyors of half-truths and disingenuous know-nothings mount a soapbox, somehow believing that because they can string a sentence together, it makes sense or is the truth – and all this from a Board of Trustees that has a very distinctive colour pattern.

Talking of a lack of colour, we also don’t see many Black thatchers, dry stone wallers, game-keepers, farmers, or farm-workers – but how many training courses do any of these fine 82 organisations run for them? How much teaching goes on about how you coppice and the need for hedging and ditching? Yet we also know that White kids don’t want to do it either. Everyone knows it’s bloody hard work, and you’re never going to be rich. A valuable and valued member of your local society – but not rich or famous or an influencer.

Maybe we haven’t sold the concept of country living nearly enough. It’s also possible that nobody sensible wants to swap central heating in Leeds for a snowed-in week in Snowdonia with no power. Maybe they don’t want to drive 15 miles to a GP and 20 to a hospital or to wait 2 hours for an ambulance – because there is NO public transport. Maybe they like axle-destroying potholes and mud-caked cars, getting stuck in fields, and being towed off bogs. And it’s hard to be a mum with a part-time job if the school bus breaks down and you have to take the kids to school fifteen miles away and not be late for your own work. Perhaps they need 5G and need to use their smartphones for business and education and life-saving, rather than face a No-spot every couple of miles, even in the “Arts Centre”, which is twelve miles away and is also the Post Office, if the sub-postmaster hasn’t been falsely arrested. The Internet of Things in rural England? Don’t make me laugh.

Living in the countryside can be a total bastard, and yet – somehow – we love it, possibly because the majority grew up with it and often can’t afford to move away from it. We do it because we have a community here, with shared common interests and, often some religion – because the church is part of that community. So we make the best of it. We do all the silly things all the wise, clever city people sneer at, like WI and Lawn Bowls. We make jams and cakes to help the homeless in another town and we take in Ukrainians and give them parties. We don’t like badgers because we’ve all seen what they do to a hen house, and our mate keeps dairy cattle, and I’ve seen his wife crying when the TB tests come in. Sometimes, but often enough to be irritating, you have to go to The Co-Op, where a six-day-old yellowing cabbage will have to be the green element of your dinner and a tin of Fray Bentos, which is neither Kosher nor Halal, but God knows that you meant well, so be grateful. There is no Uber for taxis, nor Deliveroo nor Just Eat because the Take Aways don’t exist, or don’t deliver. We used to go to the pub regularly, but it’s fifteen minutes away by car, and the other pub, which is nearer, sells more Ketamine than Guinness to the kids who get bored without anything to do – because there is NOTHING for them to do. And everything is at least the same price as it is in the towns and cities; just without the benefits.

Welcome.

Stop telling us that our lives are all wrong, and we’re ungrateful racist bastards who don’t know how to manage the land properly and are killing people with our lamb and wheat and corn and pigs and soya and milk. You urbanites and suburbanites criticise us for everything wrong and contribute nothing. You do the wrong things through ignorance, prejudice, and outdated socialist class principles. You make national plans that work fine in major cities but cannot work in the countryside. No greater example of that disconnect exists than in the hunting ban in 2004, and some 18 years later, still wrapped in your cocoon of smug stupidity, you ignored the calls last year from over 100 UK vets asking for urgent scientific research into why the Fox population is reaching extinction levels in some parts of the country. The same could be said of the Brown Hare, which has also suffered a catastrophic decline since Blair “reluctantly” accepted Acker for Acts. No matter – the omnipresent NT raised its ever-busy head and banned hunting across its lands as well …. because they cared to.

NOTE TO THE NATIONAL TRUST: When you initiate a proper democratic voting system for the members and do away with proxy voting; when you stop destroying our heritage with your phony cultural wars; when you stop being political and start being more honest, I’ll consider hearing your voice. In the meantime, perhaps you can explain to your supporters how your diversity policies are on message when of nine Executive Board members, there are five women and four men – none of whom appear to be of colour. And your twelve-strong board of Trustees has six White Men, four White Females, one Asian Female and one Black Female. The latter, incidentally, is Ade Rawcliffe: Ade was appointed to the National Trust’s Board of Trustees in September 2018. She is Head of Diversity for ITV Commissioning and is responsible for delivering ITV’s ongoing commitment to reflecting the diversity of modern Britain at the heart of mainstream television. One might have hoped that she would have made a difference to the organisation’s leadership after five years. Zarin Patel was also coincidentally appointed to the National Trust’s Board of Trustees in September 2018. She was the BBC’s Chief Financial Officer and a member of its Board from 2004 to 2013, during which time she helped transform the BBC into a fully digital broadcaster. In this wondrous and properly meritocratic society, the National Trust needs digitisation above everything else.

A quick glance at the majority of the other organisations tells the same story in terms of board make-up, and when I’ve just been accused of racism, I find that so… what’s the word…. empowering.

Physician Heal Thy Self.

Note: The Wildlife and Countryside Link, began life as Wildlife Link in 1980, taking over from two existing umbrella bodies, the Council for Nature and the Council for Environmental Conservation. The Labour Hereditary peer, Lord Peter Melchett, drove the formation of Link based on his experience in the upper chamber that convinced him that better coordination was needed between voluntary organisations with similar core objectives. In 1982, Countryside Link was formed to look after the interests of the countryside, and in 1990, the two organisations merged, creating the organisation of today, whose interests span the breadth of wildlife and countryside issues. Link’s 82 members provide the majority share of Link’s core income through an annual subscription and voluntary donations. Financial support is also received from Natural England, the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and the Tubney Charitable Trust.

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