A must-read for those who value the countryside
Dave Knight, CPRE Essex chairman, reviews a book that offers both a trip down memory lane and a warning that the provision of cheap food comes at a price
It is very seldom I read a book of 286 pages in three days, but James Rebanks’s English Pastoral captivated me to do just that.
Set in the northern part of the English Lake District, it vividly captures the way of working life on a farm spread over three generations, living off the proceeds of the family farm that had belonged to them for many generations and another rented one.
It relates the teaching of a young James by his grandfather about farming, wildlife and countryside ways, as well as from his father, as time passed and farming techniques changed rapidly but not always to the benefit of the land.
This is interspersed with the domesticity of rural life – its hardships and the work ethics of the farming community. They never took holidays!
But it is much more than an account that is written in some parts like a novel; it is interspersed with graphic illustrations of how hard it is for a small-scale farm to make a living without resorting to industrial methods.
It technically points out that while rotational farming has survived for many centuries the modern trend towards factory farming is ultimately unstainable.
One of the most poignant of the many anecdotes Rebanks uses in his book is when he and his father were travelling across the lower lands of the Lake District and saw a huge tractor tilling the soil on a massive scale. His father asked if he had noticed that no seagulls were following the plough – and why. No worms!
A must-read for those who value the countryside, it is also a very easy but technical read for all and notably our law-makers. We need to accept that cheap food comes with a price to following generations.
This book was a journey down memory lane for me as I grew up in a farming community with a father who was a stockman and shared the same values and kindness to animals without being sentimental. As much as anything, he understood the need to be careful with the provider of it all: the countryside.
English Pastoral: An Inheritance
by James Rebanks
(Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2020)