… under starry skies above,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me ride through the wide-open country that I love,
Don’t fence me in.
Let me be by myself in the evening breeze,
Listen to the murmur of the cottonwood trees,
Send me off forever, but I ask you please —
Don’t fence me in.
There’s a story in how Cole Porter, of all unlikely metrosexuals, came up with that one (as wikipedia will tell you, he didn’t). Equally, there’s scope for historical sociology in why it became the hit of post-D Day 1944.
That, however, isn’t relevant now. That retort by Doubting Thomas to the earlier thing is:
Unlike you, I’m a thorough-going land reformer and if you had a spare few moments, and of course if you had not come across it before, there is a blog on http://www.andywightman.com which although scottish in emphasis is nevertheless aimed at exposing the influence of the landowners in politics.
Well, actually no: Malcolm hadn’t encountered that before; and it was (and is) worth the trip.
So, Malcolm, are you a thorough-going land reformer?
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
A long while back, and he cannot quite recall the context, Malcolm did a spot of research on land-ownership in Norfolk. It surprised him that the number of big land-holders and the acreage they held were not greatly changed since the tithe maps of the 1840s. What was the squirearchy then is agribusiness now.
Hence a heave of Malcolmian spleen, and throttled yells of The expropriators must be expropriated!
Across the whole UK, 0.6% of the population (36,000 persons) still own some half of the rural land [Source: Country Life, 10 November 2010]. The top ten landowners named in that article were:
- The Duke of Buccleugh;
- The Duke of Atholl;
- The Duke of Cornwall;
- The Duke of Westminster;
- The Duke of Northumberland;
- The Laird of Invercauld, Captain Alwyne Farquharson;
- The Earl of Seafield;
- The Countess of Sutherland;
- Baroness Willoughby de Eresby;
- The Viscount Cowdray.
All good sons (and a daughter) of the soil. Of the earth, earthy. Significantly, a bare majority of those names are big in Scottish lands.
On top of that, the “State” owns vast tracts of land. The biggest single holdings are by the Ministry of Defence (241,100 hectares — over 930 square miles — across the whole UK) and the Forestry Commission (260,000-hectares in England alone — around 1,004 square miles). On the whole they have been “good” landowners: we may quibble, but … well, Malcolm recalls a sentimental summer stroll across MoD land to Lulworth Cove, with small blue butterflies aplenty, wild orchids, and a ginormous adder dozing in the sun.
Quite how the situation would be improved by delegating responsibilities down to local councils is difficult to appreciate: the continuing scandal of Cotswold Water Park and Cotswold District Council (see Private Eyes for months back) should be an awful warning. Yet that is what seems to be in Andy Wightman’s mind:
I wrote an article for the Observer at the time arguing that if folk want public forests they needed to think about ownership and consider a new model of public ownership that is removed from Government and is more local and accountable to “the public”. I cited the example of public forests in France, for example, where 20% of public forests are owned by 11,000 communes (30% of France’s 36,700 communes or municipalities).
There are local precedents, though, for small communities having democratic control of their environment. There is the Isle of Rum Community Trust, in Kinloch village, a functioning community of fewer than a score enfranchised souls. But, seemingly, flourishing. How that could be applied to urban and suburban communities, where one is ignorant of the neighbours three or four doors way, would stretch any imagination.
And none of us actually own our plots without qualification. There is, by necessity, a superior power — what in the UK is called “compulsory purchase” and in the US “eminent domain”. That, too, is right and proper — in extremis, the needs of the whole community must take precedence over any property rights of the individual. Those whose origins lie in Tyneham and the Elan Valley are entitled to differ. Similarly, nobody about to be expropriated by HS2 or a nuclear power station feels any rightness or propriety applies: suddenly it all comes down to that magic word, “compensation” — and when the compensation has been spent, all that remains is the grievance.
Now, to the practical: what can be done about next door’s creeping bamboo, which is infesting the bottom corner of the Redfellow Hovel garden? Or that damned crapping cat?