A feast of follies.
Aghast at the absurdities of agricultural policy, I did not include a chapter on the landscape of agriculture in the first edition of this book. Since then (1986) the situation in Europe has worsened, through the introduction of set-aside policies. But there is more debate about reform, and I have sought to apply the principles outlined in Part 1 of this book to the question of landscape planning in rural areas (Fig. 7.1). It may help to think of the task as country planning, rather than as agricultural planning.
Let us begin with the absurdities. After the peace of 1815, British agriculture was protected only for 30 years, until 1846, by the Corn Laws. Fifty years after the peace of 1945, European agriculture continues to be heavily subsidized by town-dwellers. This has mostly led to disbenefits for non-farmers, such as industrialized food and a loss of wildlife habitats. Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy became famous for its butter mountains, grain storage silos, wine lakes, BSE and meat stores. After 1992, the storage problem was reduced by equally expensive supply controls. They drive land prices up and food quality down.
In less intensively farmed areas, such as Britain’s uplands, subsidies are available either for planting trees on land where they would grow naturally or for keeping sheep which prevent natural regeneration. In the lowlands, subsidies are offered either for intensive farming, which destroys wildlife, or for making nature reserves, which promote wildlife. Towns have more bird species than agricultural land. The set-aside policy, which pays farmers for doing nothing, gives most cash to the great landowners, possibly because they have the most experience of leisure pursuits. Set-aside payments encourage rich farmers to sack poor farmworkers. There would be more sense in subsidizing bureaucrats to write ponderous memos to coal-miners instructing them to excavate coal, stack it in neat piles and wait six weeks before putting it back. Unwanted milk used to be poured into coal-mines, where it polluted water supplies. Under Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy, it is given to underdeveloped countries in order to enrich the