Common Ground's Manifesto for Fields
Fields have meanings and memories for millions of us. In their manifold forms, fields express our cultural crafting of the land. They are our unwritten history, carved clearings in the wild wood, the accumulation of practical experimentation, invention and subtlety, extending over generations. Yet under our gaze this rich combining of culture and nature has been smoothed and sprayed out of existence in half a lifetime.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the way we treat the land now. We have lost the wisdom of the fields.
Deep ploughing has reduced ridge and furrow, buried villages and countless barrows. Only 13% of our stonewalls are still stockproof, 209,000 miles of hedge were removed between 1947 - 1990. Agricultural intensification and development have caused the demise of 97% of our hay meadows, 80% of our chalk and lime-stone downlands, 65% of our Culm grasslands during the last 25 years.
Over the same period, and for allied reasons, farmland bird populations have declined drastically - the native grey partridge by 82%, spotted flycatcher by 73%, lapwing by 62% and skylark by 58%.
People have disappeared from the land too. Between 1983 and 1994 the agri-cultural labour force fell from 616,000 to 538,000. Now only 2.1% of the workforce in Britain is involved in agriculture. Farms have become larger, so have farm machines. The result has been increasing isolation and pressure for those left to work the land. More farmers kill themselves in Britain than any other occupation. The Samaritans say that suicide is now the second most common cause of death in farmers under 45 years.
As agriculture has become more mechanised and intensive, it has become more remote and more excluding, people even feel unable to engage in debate about it.
HOLISTIC farming-working with nature, culture and locality, rotating crops, mixing livestock with arable production and reducing our dependence on artificial pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers - could solve many problems. If farmers produced food for local consumption they would be in direct contact with the surrounding community and would be more likely to be valued and understood. Local Distinctiveness would be reinforced, culture and nature once more particularising place.
We need to re-think what fields are for if we want them to continue to fulfil a wider role than just crop and livestock production. Fields are not factories - they are our unique and variegated expression of a long relationship with the land.
What do we want fields to be, look like and sustain? Grants to farmers and landholders have enabled and encouraged most of the detrimental changes to the land. As taxpayers, we are footing the bill for massive subsidies - £3.3 billion in 1996.
These grants benefit a few, not society as a whole. They have led to the destruction of our common wealth - our wild life inheritance, evidence of the way we have worked the land over millennia, the pollution of watercourses and the reduction of the intrinsic potential of the soil.
Fields should be full of life, we should be working with this natural exuberance and diversity rather than trying to supress it.
Changes to the way we treat the land will only come from popular pressure.This Manifesto is a provocation to thought and action. If your Manifesto for Fields resembles ours, then please write to your MP and MEP - Demand that support for agriculture should only be available if it produces wholesome food, reflects and reinforces the cultural importance of fields, improves conditions for farmworkers and benefits society, the welfare of livestock, nature and the land.
I found the poems in the fields
and only wrote them down
See how other poets have responded to fields in "FIELD DAYS", an anthology of poetry compiled by Angela King and Sue Clifford.
WHAT'S IN A FIELD ... ?
Does your place have a PASTE EGG FIELD?
Have you seen a SNAKESHEAD FRITILLARY MEADOW ?