I was immeasurably cheered by hearing farmer Robert Worsley on the radio this morning, talking so eloquently and passionately about his refusal to accept an offer of just shy of £300 million for his farm from developers. The offer – which is ten times more than his property is worth – is the kind of money that most people would find it impossible to refuse, and yet, refuse it he has. Because, he says, he could not live with himself if he gave away part of the West Sussex countryside to be carved up and built on. It wasn’t even a hard decision for the farmer, who said that his principles are worth more than any money anyone could offer.
Speaking on Radio 2, Worsley mentioned friends, family and the local community whose lives would be dramatically and irrevocably changed by his decision, he talked about how much he loved the land he and his family had farmed and lived on for years. “To turn my back on all the people and all those principles would be unconscionable.” And he said he felt more like a custodian of this ancient piece earth, than the owner of it. Citing the fact that there is evidence of settlements on his land from as far back as 300 BC, he said: “I cannot see what else I can do, but reject this money and leave this land green in perpetuity. We are here for such a short time, my farm is ancient, who would I be to turn this to concrete?”
In times when the British countryside and country way of life is rapidly disappearing, this man reminds us how important it is to do your bit to protect what is so precious. The recent election has meant a lot of people saying things like: “My vote doesn’t count,” or “What difference can I make?”. But this is clear evidence of the difference you can make if you care enough. If we don’t all act to stop the relentless march of careless development in the country, the way we live and the things we love about our lives will disappear.
And it’s not just developers. Just the other week I received a Knight Frank leaflet through my door, proudly citing how many homes they’ve sold as second homes to Londoners or to developers. How is this something to be proud of? Village after village in some of the most beautiful parts of the country are slowly turning into nothing more than holiday destinations. Many of the villages around us are now virtually empty during the week, until Londoners turn up for two days at the weekend, before leaving again.
We are lucky that the village we live in is on land owned by local wealthy land-owners and is therefore protected from such thoughtless changes. Moving here, we had to prove our local connection to the area and ensure we would be here full-time and not just at the weekends. This is the same for anyone who moves into villages they look after. The result? A village that thrives throughout the week, and at the weekend. We have a village school, a working village church, a village hall that is always full and busy, a village pub, a lady in the village who sells free range eggs. We have neighbours, friends, locals and people we see everyday walking their dogs and dropping their children off at school. Many a time, alone with a crying baby, I have looked out of the kitchen window and seen someone I knew, and realised I wasn’t really alone.
This a community, these are people who count on each other, and people who Munchkin will grow up knowing as part of her life. And this is what people must act to protect. Estate agents and property developers might want to fill our land with faceless houses and empty homes, but we can stop them in our tracks. Little by little we can make a difference. People like Robert Worsley give me hope. Perhaps we can all try to live a little more principled and a little less selfishly.
“The English countryside, its growth and its destruction, is a genuine and tragic theme.”