30 June 1995

Keep the townies out,

urges forthright Bron

"RIGHTS of way were not invented for fat townies who want to lose a bit of weight!"

So said Auberon Waugh during a lively debate, Farmers Vs Townies – A Fight to the End, at the Royal Bath and West Show. Never one to mince words, either in his newspaper columns or in person, and caring not one jot about being politically correct, he voiced the opinions many a countryman thinks but is too conditioned to utter.

Fed up with the sentimental attitude to "deprived" town dwellers, he questioned what they were deprived of.

"As country dwellers we have one advantage – green fields. Townies have millions – Chinese take-aways, massage parlours… These self-righteous people should not be given an inch."

Instead he advocated that as many footpaths as possible should be closed to them and he would have the road signs taken off the end of every village lane and replaced with dead-end symbols.

As for hunting, he felt that it would be a sad day for England if it was banned. "City dwellers get sentimental about animals. What is to be done except to say shut up and cuddle your own pet fox in the garden," he said.

Waugh was an inspired choice for this well drawn panel, all of whom could debate their opinions forcefully but with good humour. Full marks to Clive Aslet, Editor of Country Life, for choosing dairy farmer and Glastonbury pop festival organiser Michael Eavis, environmental campaigner the Marchioness of Worcester (better known to fans of the Cats Eyes TV series as actress Tracy Ward) and Anthony Gibson, regional director of the NFU, to answer questions from the audience on the last, very wet day of the show.

Michael Eavis maintained that it was quite reasonable for the public to expect access to farms when they see so much of their money being paid in subsidies. "I receive £47,000 a year in subsidies and pay back £60,000 in tax but feel that if we are taking money from the government people should be allowed on our land. We actually encourage it and have put 20 sets of stiles round the farm."

Anthony Gibson felt subsidies had a positive effect on wildlife and world economics. "Without support we would have to prairie farm and that would be disastrous for conservation. By reducing European grain we allow world grain prices to rise and this allows Third World countries to make a living," he said.

Miss Ward, a strong campaigner against more new roads, came across in the debate as not so much anti-roads as pro keeping as much of the countryside intact as possible. She voiced the opinion that many of the new "local" road developments have more to do with linking up other main roads or redirecting traffic to the latest out-of-town supermarket than to any need to alleviate congestion in villages.

The debate was thought provoking and deserved a wider audience. Too often vociferous city dwellers with no input into the countryside assume the right to tell farmers and villages what to do. Perhaps it is time farmers struck back by using speakers the public can warm to to put their point of view across. Meanwhile, perhaps show societies can answer the one question that this panel could not.

Why are the likes of Marks & Spencer allowed to run a stand selling sandwiches alongside, and in direct competition with the local food producers in the food hall? Havent the supermarkets taken enough small traders out of the market without hitting them on their home (show) ground?

Tessa Gates