Friday, August 27, 2010

Guardians of the countryside?

click photo to enlarge
I remember hearing, many years ago, a representative of the National Farmers Union (NFU) being interviewed on the radio. He was defending the actions of his members against criticism that their practices were largely responsible for the massive reduction, during the past fifty years, in farmland bird species and wild flowers. He argued, very cogently, that farmers had responded to the demand by retailers and consumers for cheaper food, and that lower prices had come about by increased efficiency, including mechanization, a smaller workforce, and larger farms and fields. And, whilst he acknowledged that this had changed the character of farms, and to some extent, the appearance of the countryside, he was at pains to point out that the landscape was something farmers cared about and conserved. He felt it was wrong to characterise them as destructive. However, he then went on to describe his members as "guardians of the countryside", a description that I felt was more than a little flattering.

I have come across, and known, farmers who thoroughly deserve this title, people who do farm with landscape and wildlife as more than an afterthought: clearly there are many such people. Unfortunately, there are also those who pay no regard to biodiversity, who see wild flora and fauna as competitors to their main business, and seem to conduct a campaign of despoilation in the search for ever higher yields. A few days cycling in the Nottinghamshire countryside have recently highlighted one of these practices. We passed mile after mile of hedgerows that had been smashed ("cut" does describe the way they were savaged), often with a powered grass flail rather than a purpose-built hedge trimmer. A farmer, still busy in the distance pulverizing the hedges, had littered the verge and road we were navigating with splintered hawthorn debris. But then, by way of pleasant contrast, we came across hedges that had been sensitively cut, at a time of year that didn't destroy nests, and fields such as the one in today's photograph, where oak trees had been left to grow despite the inconvenience that they must present to tractors, ploughs and combine harvesters. We were left to wonder what made farmers act in such clearly different ways?

Our time away coincided with some unsettled weather, and this image was taken as we pedalled home in the knowledge that rain was imminent. The lone trees, tractor lines and the brooding clouds made for a simple landscape that appealed to me, and I used the LX3's 16:9 format to capture the sweeping undulations of the stubble covered field.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Lumix LX3
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 9.3mm (44mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 80
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On