Land is—or should be—invaluable, perhaps even sacred. It is not only a place to live, but also a source for food, for water, for fuel, and for sustenance of almost every kind. Land management choices have profound impacts on our ecosystems and environment, and thus on our health, well-being and collective future.
Hence the politics of land access, and the laws that emerge from it, fundamentally shape our lives, our world and our legacy. Yet in Britain, something is radically wrong. As Simon Fairlie bluntly describes in The Land magazine, “nearly half the country is owned by 40,000 land millionaires, or 0.06% of the population, while most of the rest of us spend half our working lives paying off the debt on a patch of land barely large enough to accommodate a dwelling and a washing line.”
Such consolidated land ownership also engenders the uniform, large-scale, mechanised agriculture that is gradually becoming our mental image of “a farm.” Yet with the UK population having swelled by four million over the past decade, it becomes ever more pertinent that this model has long been known to produce far less food per acre than traditional smaller holdings—quite apart from its oil dependence and wider environmental impacts.
Meanwhile, many dream of using land truly sustainably by developing small-scale agroecological smallholdings that provide satisfying livelihoods, healthier ecosystems and not just more food, but healthier food. Some even purchase land and start planning to build their home before being blocked and frustrated at every turn as they engage with the legal intricacies and often perverse rulings of the planning permission system; the same system that is all too happy to give land over to a proliferation of supermarkets and identikit housing estates.
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