Wednesday 11 July 2007

The Greedy Farmer

Now we know. The Farmers are indeed the most parochial, selfish, mean-spirited lobby of them all. One motive lies behind their objection to more access to walking routes: pure untempered greed. They see an opportunity to squeeze another unearned euro of poor old Joe Public.

I am a keen hillwalker and I know the countryside pretty well. The vast bulk of hillwalkers are responsible people who are mindful about the countryside and the environment. Not only that, by definition, it's in their interest to keep the countryside in good shape. Most that I know are highly conscious about littering the countryside; they dutifully close gates after the pass through; they keep distance from animals and private dwellings.

Furthermore the vast bulk of the most interesting walks lie in the least productive farmlands - usually uplands covered in bog or rock.

The other striking fact is that farmers are the most heavily subsidised workers in the country. About half of their farm earnings come as a subsidy. And these matters are decided by politicians who always keep one eye on public opinion. If the public attitude hardens against farmers, politicians will feel they can make deeper cuts in farm subsidies. No Matter. It seems the farmer is conditioned to severe the hands that feeds him.

All reasonable people know that the tiny incidence of misbehaviour among hillwalkers can be dealt with. And agreements can be made about how to use potetial walk ways. No particular genious is required - it's all been done elsewhere. Why not here?

The other thing is that many rural communities - especially on the Western seaboard - will come to depend more and more on incomes from tourism. Small farmers have a role to play here in partnership with the tourism industry. Various co-operative schemes can be imagined. But it's certainly in the medium to long term interest of these small farmers to see tourist numbers increase. Walkers can be a big part of that. Our coastal walks are stunningly beautiful and have enormous potential.

So it's rather sad to see the farmers dig in on an issue where, really, they have nothing to gain from their blind intransigence, and very very much to lose. So ok famers, dig in, but the clock is ticking on your subsidies, and next time the begging bowl is out, we, the public will make up a bogus constitutional argument about why we cannot help.

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