Countryside Alliance Executive Chairman Barney White-Spunner writes: The continuing poor weather has piled misery upon misery for flood-hit towns and villages across the UK and at the time of writing the Environment Agency still has nearly 200 flood warnings in place.
Set against this backdrop we have learned recently that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is having to cut its budget while the Environment Agency, a body overseen by the Department, is to make over 1500 redundancies. Efra Select Committee chairwoman and Conservative MP Ann McIntosh has said: “Ministers must clarify how further budget cuts of [more than] £300m over the coming two years will impact on the funding provided to these agencies (including the Environment Agency) and the ability of the department to respond to emergencies.” The weather is not the only bleak picture as it ignores austerity measures.
In such times the British character comes to the fore. The pictures on our television sets (for those with power, at least) show communities pulling together and working with the emergency services to try to keep the water at bay, keep people safe and try to get on with day to day business. Former Countryside Alliance Chief Executive Simon Hart MP appeared on the Today programme on Radio 4 this week to talk about the crisis (click here to listen again, Simon is at 2h55). He observed that local planners should ensure flood plains are not developed, which is absolutely right and will require communities to offer their input into decisions locally. Simon also expressed concern for the elderly, the isolated and the ill who are unable to access medical care in such circumstances and we echo his sentiments – life in the countryside is difficult enough, and we are all grateful for strong communities pulling together for the most vulnerable. Simon was also strong in his support for farmers whose crops are ruined and who are having obvious supply-chain problems compounding the problems their businesses are enduring just now.
Simon’s interview led neatly to Environment Secretary Owen Paterson MP’s comments this week urging us all to buy British. We could not agree more that our farmers, growers and producers need as much support as we can give them, especially at the moment, and applaud this strong message being reported in the media. We did, however, join the NFU in asking Government to lead from the front and put funding of its own into this “Buy British” movement. We were quoted in the Daily Mail yesterday saying just this; public bodies do not procure nearly enough British produce so we would like to see action instead of fine words. Let’s see our hospitals, schools and other institutions serving up the nutritional benefits of seasonal British produce – we will see a healthier nation and a stronger farming sector as a result.
In closing I would draw your attention to our “New Year’s Resolutions“; a tough start to 2014 shows anew our need to stand together and promote our countryside far and wide.