Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Great Countryside Media Swindle!


I was reading Robert McFarlane’s article on ‘Britain’s Wild Places’ in the Guardian today. I’m never too sure about RM and where he fits into the outdoor writing field? I’ve enjoyed and agreed with many of his articles but can never get a handle on his books which I often find unreadable. My misgivings perhaps relate to his place within a British media which in recent years has become corralled into a narrow and obsessive promotion and presentation of the UK countryside as a bucolic heaven on earth. In its way it is-as it was in Ruskin’s day- a largely metropolitan perception of what the countryside actually is with regards to ecology, socio/cultural issues and how it relates to rural areas in other parts of the world.

At its worst it is a BBC Countryfile view of the countryside. Basically an insidious piece of NFU propaganda aimed at ignorant townies. A countryside which never was. Where heroic farmers tend their rare breed cattle, make cheese in their outbuildings and welcome the return of the migrating wild geese. In Countryfileworld, there is no grubbing up of hedges,draining of ponds,gruesome snares,moles hanging on fences,overstocked uplands grazed to the bone and unable to naturally regenerate. There are no generous subsidies for ‘improvements’, no closing of rights of way and farmers shouting ‘get orf my land!’. It’s a saccharine coated cloying world where a blonde bimbo bends the willow and her boring straight laced side kick waves a fly road over dappled waters.

Basically, the success of Countryfile has spawned an industry. Every channel now has a ‘Secret Britain, Unspoiled Britain,Beautiful Britain, Hidden Britain etc etc, where celebrities repeat the mantra that 'Britain is the most beautiful country in the world’ while rolling cheese wheels down a hillside, Smoking herring and bumping into ‘local history experts’.

Which brings me back to Robert MacFarlane. His Guardian piece falls dangerously into the Tourist industry territory in the way he follows the Countryfile narrative. Claiming somewhat absurdly, that we have wilderness in the UK which we patently don’t have. We have increasingly threatened areas of wildness which is not the same. Given the UK population is 64 million and predicted to hit 70 million within ten years, then we have to accept that short of a catastrophic apocalypse then we will never see wilderness- and those lost species it once supported, like bears, wolves and lynx,- ever again.

To compound the media countryside narrative, MacFarland offers a handy list at the foot of his article of ‘Wild Hotspots’, In its way its the ‘Wainwright Paradox’. A writer who claims to be at home in the wild places but who unintentionally through his writing, holds up a big sign saying ‘Tourists this Way’!  I have a terrible feeling that we’ll be seeing ‘Davina McCall’s Wild Hotspots’ on ITV any day now!.

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