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Who should run the countryside?
Rural Scotland 2006
SCA annual conference, Royal Highland Centre,
25th April 2006
Kate Hoey MP
Chairman of the Countryside Alliance
Filed 08 May 06
Good morning everyone. It’s really lovely
to be up in Scotland. I came up on the Sleeper and I was beginning
to think that I should take Scotrail to the Trade Descriptions Act
when it’s called the Sleeper because I’m afraid I didn’t
actually get much sleep on it. But it’s still really lovely
to be here.
I want to, first of all, thank Scottish Countryside
Alliance and everybody who’s been involved in the organisation
of this very important conference – including Scottish Farmer
who helped to sponsor it. It’s the fourth such conference
and, looking at the list of people who are here, it’s very
clear this is something that has been taken very, very seriously
indeed by people involved in the rural community.
Now I’m sure there were a number of people,
when I became chairman of the Countryside Alliance, last October,
who said “What on earth is an inner-city, London MP doing
becoming chairman of the Countryside Alliance?” so I just
wanted to say a few words about that.
Obviously, as has been mentioned, I oppose the
ban on hunting but I do come from a rural background. I was born
on a small farm in Northern Ireland, a farm which would certainly
have been called organic if the word ‘organic’ had been
known when I was growing up. It was a farm where everything and
every animal on that farm was free range. I did all the usual things
that people growing up on a farm do. I’ve brought many, many
pigs into this world, have helped to bring calves into the world
and have seen all the activities that go on.
Kate Hoey MP
Chairman, Countryside Alliance
Photo by kind permission
of Countryside Alliance
The one thing that you learn when you’ve
been brought up on a farm is that, no matter how much you care for
your animals and love your stock, these animals are going to be
killed. I grew up in the kind of atmosphere where it is absolutely
clear that, while animal welfare is totally important, the animals
were there as part of a management system. This experience allowed
me to be educated and to go on to do what I do. So I don’t
have any fluffy sort of ideas about animals. I know, as all of us
who are involved in farming know, that the most important aspect
of farming is the welfare of animals.
I was asked to be Chairman of the Countryside
Alliance at the stage when the hunting ban had been implemented
in England and Wales (but not in Northern Ireland) and, of course,
Scotland already had its ban. That was actually the time for Countryside
Alliance to be even more high profile, although Countryside Alliance
is more than an organisation that defends field sports. As an inner-city
MP, I felt very much that I wanted to do my bit to try to bridge
that gap between urban and rural.
Having grown up in a rural area and also lived
and worked in London for many years, I was particularly conscious
of the lack of understanding and knowledge in inner-city areas of
what actually went on in the countryside. Take, for example, the
old proverbial thing about children not understanding where milk
comes from. People may laugh at that but that belief is a reality
in many parts of our inner cities. People just seem to assume that
the countryside is just ‘there’ and that no-one actually
manages it. Most urban people don’t really understand that
what is there in the countryside has been created as part of wildlife
management and farming throughout the ages.
One of the things that we at the Countryside Alliance
UK have learnt is that Scotland and the Scottish Countryside Alliance
is actually ahead of the game in many of the areas. They were first
to set up an educational charity which has been extremely successful.
We’re now following that in England, which will mean that
we can do lots more work in educational terms with young people.
I’m particularly pleased to see the success
of SNAP – the project put in place by the Scottish Countryside
Alliance where the Scottish National Angling association works with
young people getting them to understand and experience the joys
and the miseries of angling. It’s extremely interesting, and
I’m sure Tony (Andrews) is delighted that this week the leader
of the opposition, David Cameron, seems to have picked up a lot
of our ideas about getting people out into country areas, going
on expeditions and other similar activities.
I regularly take a group of young people right
from the centre of Brixton, which is in my constituency, to try
clay pigeon shooting down in Hampshire. Many of those youngsters
in an area like mine could literally get access to a gun as quickly
as you can get access to a taxi, if they really wanted to. This
practical experience, supported by a detailed safety session, helped
them understand the discipline of shooting. By that evening they
were fully aware that guns, as well as being very dangerous weapons,
could actually be enjoyable. Indeed, some may even progress to be
We’ve seen the success of our shooting teams
recently at the Commonwealth Games and I believe that it’s
vital that young people are able to have the opportunity to learn
to shoot. Unfortunately, whilst the government has said that shooting
is safe, the drip-drip approach makes it more and more difficult
to take part in the sport. Raising the age that young people can
get access to a firearm is going to further decrease the opportunities
for young people to get involved.
Last year, I took a group down to the Earl of
Normanton’s estate in Hampshire - he also has a lot of pheasant
shooting. The young people were just learning to do some clay shooting
and, over lunch, the Earl asked them if they had enjoyed themselves.
And, of course, they said they’d had a wonderful time. He
said to one young lad, "Have you really enjoyed yourself?"
and he said "Yes, it’s been great". That morning
they’d been out to see some of the rearing of the pheasants
and what was going on and had a little talk about how that works,
and so on. The Earl said, "So you would like to come back then?",
and the young lad said, "Yes, please can I come back and can
we shoot the peasants?" And that was actually true, so we all
laughed and said that that’s apparently what they did a few
hundred years ago but that was no longer happening. I’m very
keen to see that kind of thing increased, not just for shooting
but also for angling as is already happening in Scotland.
I think that the field sports are very much part
of why life management is part of our rural landscape. It’s
the thread that links everybody within the Countryside Alliance,
even though other aspects of what the Countryside Alliance is doing
are becoming more and more important. I think the Alliance has a
role to ensure that whatever Parliament is legislating is based
on evidence and principle. And, of course, we saw, both in Scotland
and south of the Border, that in hunting we had a piece of legislation
which was not about animal welfare, but was simply and solely about
settling old scores and prejudice and ignorance.
We’ve now ended up with this Bill and it’s
not just the Countryside Alliance and people who hunt who are saying
it’s flawed. We have eminent wildlife management experts saying
that. Just recently we’ve had John Hobhouse, who was a very
distinguished chairman of the RSPCA, saying that it was a flawed
law which was doing nothing to help the cause of animal welfare.
Just last night at my surgery down in Brixton,
for some reason this kestrel bird - I’m not quite sure what
it was, because I didn’t get to see it - had hit its head
against the window where we were doing our advice surgery. The person
in charge called the RSPCA because he’d managed to get hold
of it. (I was busy doing my surgery so I wasn’t actually involved.)
We heard afterwards that the RSPCA said that they couldn’t
come out, that this wasn’t really important enough for them.
So he actually took it to the local police station, which is what
you tend to do in inner city areas. I know you probably would have
done something slightly different here. I do feel quite sad sometimes
about the millions and millions of pounds spent by the RSPCA on
getting a hunting ban to protect wildlife and they wouldn’t
come out to help that bird.
So it’s not just us saying there are flaws.
We also have the police who realise that it is flawed. Ultimately
the law will have to be repealed and we will continue to fight for
I want to highlight just some of the other things
that we’ve been doing. I congratulate the Scottish Countryside
Alliance again on the Scottish Food Fortnight. It was a brilliant
idea because it really does make people think about what they’re
eating. More and more, we know that, with government trying to make
people more aware of this, talk about healthy eating and what we
eat, it is so important that people actually understand how food
gets onto their table.
I’ve always felt very strongly that people,
for example all those colleagues of mine that trooped into the divisions
to ban hunting, should actually look at what they eat. Consider
the people who are quite prepared to go into Tescos and buy a plastic-wrapped
battery chicken that’s had the most appalling life and yet
are not prepared to do anything about that, but are quite happy
to ruin people’s lives and livelihoods by banning hunting.
We had a very successful rural retailer competition this year again
which tried to recognise people in rural communities who were doing
such good things, yet continue to survive in a time that is more
and more difficult for small businesses.
One of the big campaigns that we’re going
to be involved with, which affects everyone across the UK, is the
defence of our local Post Offices. I’m the lead signature
on an Early Day Motion, which has now attracted 304 signatures;
one of the biggest ever such Motions on protecting rural Post Offices,
and to protect the Post Office card which so many people, particularly
pensioners, have got used to having and which is now under threat.
I think what binds us all together is the sort
of idea of the love of the countryside. We all love the countryside
for different reasons but all of them mean that we have to make
sure that that countryside is managed. The pressures that we have
on the countryside have already been detailed. I think there probably
wasn’t a single word that I disagree with in what Tony [Andrews]
said; the whole question of public access, food production, and
of course housing which is the big, big issue in rural areas. We’re
going to have in England very, very soon, the report on rural housing
from the group chaired by Allan Goodman. It will be interesting
to see if they have come up with anything new, and perhaps something
radical which would look at how we deal with the shortage of housing
in rural areas.
Also to be considered are environmental aspects
of conservation which we all know about and then, importantly for
me from my sporting background, the recreational use of land in
general. How do we make sure that everyone can have some stake in
what’s going on there and enjoy it, and also make sure that
it isn’t just left to people who want to walk quietly? The
challenge is that Scottish land managers and the Scottish Executive
have to find a balance which enables all these to survive and flourish.
And the Government, of course, doesn’t always help, because
the Government is seeking more and more powers over the management
of the countryside. We have to ensure that these growing powers
of Government over the management of the countryside are not allowed
to disrupt the systems that currently maintain it.
That challenge can only be met if, from the start,
we all accept that the land and the people that live on it and work
it are inseparable. Without farmers and land managers, there is
no countryside. They must be viewed as much an important resource
as the habitats they manage. It is about people. We must all accept
that a countryside run by the government, run by the state, run
by the assembly – whether it’s Wales, Scotland, Northern
Ireland or in England is no more desirable than a situation where
there are absolutely no controls and management, or rural development.
But the more the government intervenes, I believe, the less effective
will be the traditional successful systems of land management.
You today are facing up to that challenge, because
that’s what you’re here to discuss. The various speakers
that you are going to have will be looking at some of those issues.
Your countryside may be unique, but the challenges you face are
similar to the rest of the United Kingdom. Scotland itself has to
decide how best government and managers can combine to maintain
its countryside for future generations. And so that those living
in urban areas, and those living in country areas can feel that
it’s their country and it’s their countryside, the Countryside
Alliance will do all in its power to ensure that this happens.
Thank you very much.
Further reading recommended by Land-Care
Tony (2006). Who should run the countryside? Rural Scotland 2006.
4th Annual Conference, Royal Hihgland entre, Ingliston, Edinburgh,
25th April 2006
See SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 04 May 06,
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Acknowledgements and Disclaimer
Land-Care is grateful to Tony Andrews, CEO
Scottish Countryside Alliance, and to Dick Playfair of Playfair
Walker for the invitation to attend the conference in a media capacity,
the opportunity to participate in both formal and informal discussion,
and for their help in providing Land-Care with transcripts of the
No responsibility for errors or omissions
in the transcription process can be taken by SCA, Playfair Walker
Kimpton Graphics is a division of Land-Care.