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Countryfile is the only window on the world outside the urban space for most

John Craven and Anita Rani filming BBC Countryfile in Amble
John Craven and Anita Rani filming BBC Countryfile in Amble

I don’t have much time for the BBC’s Countryfile.

In fact, I don’t have any time. I have long since tired of its simpering presenters talking down to me and presenting their view of what goes on in the countryside in the same manner they might adopt when talking to a class of slightly deaf five-year-olds.

Equally, most of the farmers I know share my opinion –or hold an even stronger one. The problem is for a lot of people, in fact for a great many people, Countryfile is their only window on the world outside the urban spaces. Not only that, they believe every word of what it tells them as though the text had just been brought down from the mountain on freshly-engraved stone tablets.

So from that we can assume that a large section of the population now accepts the fact that the writing is on the wall for the country’s small and medium farms – and the writing spells ‘closure’. Because that was the message delivered by one interviewee I happened to see the other evening. Delivered, moreover, without challenge.

The person in question proudly wore his waistcoat emblazoned with the AHDB logo so we know which official lobby he is part of, though the initials won’t mean much to the average man in the street who has little idea what AHDB stands for (unlike farmers, who know what the AHDB is but who are still trying to work out what it’s actually for).

So the inference is that farms have to get bigger because bigger is better. Scale up, drive out those costs, bump up the margins.

I just pose one question: who among all these large-scale farmers is going to have the job of looking after the countryside? Who is going to manage Wales? Who is going to maintain the tricky balance between conservation and agriculture that makes Exmoor and Dartmoor what they are?

What about the wildlife? Because let’s get one thing clear: the wildlife oases in this country aren’t on the massive, intensively-farmed holdings the size of half a county, they exist predominantly on small and medium farms where their management is part of the general routine.

I cannot see the public being at all happy at the prospect of an army of environmental managers (which is essentially what so many smaller farmers are) being driven off the land, because it doesn’t take an Einstein to work out that the only cost-effective way to manage wildlife in this countryside is to pay the farmer to do it, because the state wouldn’t be able to afford its own dedicated workforce.

And as we wave goodbye to small and medium farmers we can also wave goodbye to a host of individual food and drink products which comes off them and which, after several decades of effort, has finally given us a specialist food sector we can be justly proud of.

Let’s turn the argument round: why should we have to sacrifice all that, to put many of our most cherished landscapes art risk merely because the food chain won’t pay farmers what they need to carry on operating in the traditional way they always have?

Why should we jeopardise the whole future of our countryside just so that Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons and the rest can continue racking up the profits?

That, I would suggest, is the real question Countryfile should be asking.