James Gray MP welcoming representatives of 20th Armoured Brigade to Parliament
James Gray MP with representatives from Google and The Countryside Alliance Foundation
James at The Springfields Academy
James with representatives of 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards during a Welcome Home Event for 20th Armoured Brigade
Whether we live in a town, a village, or in the deepest of rural idylls, all of us in this area feel as if we live in the countryside. We love the fields and hedgerow, the cows grazing peacefully; we shop as much as we can at the farm shop, support rural pubs and post offices, decry most development and cast a nostalgic eye at the hunt down Lacock High Street on Boxing Day. Very few of us are real country folk these days – but most of us would like to be.
Well we owe our countryside and landscape to farmers. More than that, we like to eat local produce; organic if we can afford it. We’re uneasy at chickens imported from Thailand, beef from Argentina, fruit and veg from Spain and beyond. We’re ready to sign the ‘food miles’ petition and support fair-trade chocolate bars; yet we do the bulk of our family shopping in the supermarket where ‘cheapest is best’ tends to be the rule, no matter where the food comes from nor how it was raised. Yet if we go on this way we risk sacrificing the very countryside which so many of us love.
Local farmers are quite rightly up in arms about yet another cut in the farmgate milk price. They get about 25 pence a litre, despite the estimated cost of production being 30pence. They can’t go on that way for very long. Many are already packing up shop and selling off their herds; others are rightly concerned about how they will persuade the younger generation to take over such a thankless task. All of that combined with the foul weather so far this summer means farmers locally are at the end of their collective tethers, as they have made plain to me at meetings in Wiltshire and in Westminster. It just can’t go on like this, and I have promised to do what I can to help.
Lip-service to farming and to the wider environment gets us nowhere. I went to the Arctic last year and was struck by the absence of ice. That coupled with the rainforests disappearing at an alarming rate have shifted the jet stream southwards, drenching the UK in the wettest summer ever. That has a direct effect on farming and food prices, and could have dire consequences elsewhere.
I have always been a little sceptical about Global Warming or climate change, although support the precautionary principle – that we’ll look pretty foolish if we do nothing about it and it subsequently turns out to have been for real. But our experience this summer, my trip to the Arctic and my talks with local farmers increasingly convince me that we really are now experiencing Global climate change; and that we are mad to be doing so little about it.
If we care about our local landscapes we need prosperous local farmers; we will only get that if we support them in every way over their cheapskate competitors from overseas. If we care about our Globe and its future, then let’s use this summer’s drenching as a spur to environmental action.
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