Our green heart is under attack - MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya

This past weekend, I had the privilege to meet a group of local farmers.

Sunday, 4th March 2018, 11:00 am
Fiona Onasanya column

Admittedly, I have spent most of my life in cities, so I largely regarded it as a learning experience: I was keen to discover what is going on in the green, open areas of Peterborough.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

The British have a special relationship with the countryside; the hymn Jerusalem mentions “England’s green and pleasant land” in redemptive tones and as a contrast to the horrors of industrial Britain. This cultural norm tends to give urban people a romantic view of rural areas. This rose-tinted perspective obscures an altogether more complex reality: people who reside and labour in the countryside are working hard and performing the vital job of feeding the nation. Food-related industries are one of Peterborough’s biggest employers. I learned that this is a period of great uncertainty for farmers: they said they plan in 18-month cycles. As there is a lack of clarity on where the government is heading with Brexit, they are not sure what to do. They’re concerned potential trade deals, such as with the United States, may lower food standards and leave them at a disadvantage. This situation is becoming ever more alarming given that March 2019 is approaching fast and it’s still unclear to which markets they will sell. Farming is risky at the best of times: as part of my visit, I sat in a tractor. I was asked to guess its value. My rough estimate was much too low: it’s clear that farming is high on capital spending, whose returns can be unpredictable. The amount of paperwork required to apply for funding from government is apparently stultifying; to manage the bureaucracy, they often resort to expensive consultants. Farmers’ lives are blighted by rural crime: their equipment is prone to being stolen and shipped abroad. Gangs find some farm equipment useful for ram raiding. Other forms of crime in the countryside include industrial levels of fly tipping. However, most concerning was the prevalence of hare coursing. I was informed our area is ideal for illegal hare coursing: the land is flat, and perversely, the farmers’ work to preserve the brown hare as part of their environmental responsibilities has only made it even more amenable to this activity. The bets placed on hare coursing make it big business. The criminals have threatened many farmers; one told me that he was afraid to let his children outdoors. The police do their best; there is a rural crime unit. However, they are stretched thin; furthermore, the punishment for those caught is apparently an insufficient deterrent. I was grateful for everyone’s time; I learned a great deal and will work hard to get Parliament to move on these issues. The green heart of Peterborough deserves no less.