A typical Devon farming landscape.

The Countryside and Biodiversity - a personal view
by Councillor Des Shadrick


Farming - Food for All The following is the text of a speech given by Cllr. Shadrick at the seminar entitled 'Biodiversity: Your Community's role', on 5th December 2003.
The seminar was organised by Devon Conservation Forum with Devon County Council and was held in Christow, Devon, England.
"In the fifty years between 1948 and 1998, the world population has more than doubled, while world output has increased eight-fold (ref:World Trade Organization), yet still we cannot satisfy the basic needs of millions on this planet - a third will never make a phone call.

Man's ecological footprint is now outpacing many of the natural phenomena that govern our world.

Half a billion people live in countries that no longer have enough land to grow their own crops - by 2025 that number is likely to increase five fold.

The UN project that the global population will rise to 9 billion by 2050, by which time 90% of the world's population will live in developing countries. So the coming century, in the lifetime of my and your grandchildren, will decide the fate of the planet.

However, I see grounds for real hope. In Bideford East Primary School, the youngsters were given a range of options to rank in terms of importance. The environment scored more than all the rest put together. These were children from large housing estates - those children have these views despite the fact that we live in a society in which the power of the market is directed at urban values.

I have lived near Holsworthy, at Holsworthy Beacon, down the end of a long farm lane on a livestock farm all my life. We need to bridge the gap between town and country. What has been ignored is that the crisis in rural Britain is a spiritual crisis. Farmers and those who work on the land find their skills count for little in the market place. 17,500 left the industry in 2002 - equivalent to the closure of a factory such as Longbridge*  - yet they left quietly, unnoticed by the press.

(*Longbridge is a car manufacturing plant in the British Midlands. The threat of job losses at the plant in 1999 caused an outcry and occasioned government intervention in the form of an undisclosed amount of financial aid. More here)

Land is a source of knowledge and wisdom - countryside is our greatest work of art - it gives you a sense of place. I feel that sense of place on my own farm, where five generations of my family have harvested crops for over 100 years.

There is an old Chinese proverb which says that the most important step in a journey of a thousand miles is the first step. That first step is in a more sustainable agriculture. We need agriculture to manage the countryside - the loss of 40% of our farmland birds in the past 30 years is unacceptable. Look at the success of the Cirl Bunting in South Devon by encouraging farmers, amongst a range of options, to simply grow spring cereals.

Samuel Coleridge said on 11 December 1831:

"If men could learn from history what lessons might it teach us. But party and passion bind our eyes and the light of experience gives us a lantern on the stern which only shines on the waves behind."

We need a light that shines on the waves ahead.

Let our watchword be stewardship - not ownership - for we have to leave it all behind eventually."


In 2003 Councillor Shadrick was the Councillor for Holsworthy Rural in Devon.
He was involved with the following Devon County Council Committees:
Environment & Economy Overview/Scrutiny,
Farms Estate (Chairman),
Education (Lifelong Learning) Group,
Environment Group,
Economic Regeneration Group.