The KCC sponsored project was carried out in 1998-99 to gather information about rural settlements in the North Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
Parishes within the AONB included parts of the District Council areas for Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Gravesham, Maidstone, Medway, Sevenoaks, Shepway, Swale and Tonbridge and Malling. Each Parish was contacted and asked to nominate representatives to be responsible for forming a critical photographic record of their parish.
At the project's conclusion, the key issues identified in the survey of the North Downs parishes fell under the general heading of:
Copies of the results, including the main issues highlighted for North Downs parishes now follow.
Conservation - The way in which subsidy payments are paid to the agricultural industry is changing. The Common Agricultural Policy has just undergone the most radical shake-up since Great Britain joined the Common Market in 1973. The mid-term review (MTR) set to be implemented in 2005 will see subsidies paid on an Entitlement basis on the land, a definite shift away from a production based arrangement allowing more freedom and flexibility. (The difference being production based on crop area and entitlement on a single farm payment irrespective of what is grown.) The other important facet is modulation. This takes money away from traditional areas of support and increasingly is put into environmental schemes, such as the "Countryside Stewardship Scheme", in which the Belmont Estate is heavily involved. Agriculture is of little economic importance to many villages. The Industry is no longer perceived as being of any strategic importance in terms of continuity of food supply. Food is traded globally, so, therefore, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) can be removed from the food supply chain. There is a school of thought which argues that this may well happen post MTR on some of the less productive land in the first instance. The danger here is that great swathes of Countryside will appear unmanaged, untidy and eventually derelict. The various conservation schemes and rural development grants are the political will behind not allowing this to happen. Ultimately the fate of the face of the Countryside will be determined by the individuals that own and manage it, as it has been for generations.
The Impact of Modern Agriculture - There is probably less impact from modern agricultural methods today than there has been for thirty years or so. The changes highlighted above with the MTR, the Countryside Stewardship Scheme and the understanding of a moral obligation to the Countryside has made many landowners far more aware of their responsibility to the local flora and fauna. Within Europe, the UK has the strictest pesticide regulations of any state. The crop assurance schemes that exist are there to provide complete trace ability from field to table. Any producer who is not a member of a scheme will find it extremely difficult to market their produce. Originally sold as a premium market instrument (premium for having the assurance scheme) it is now the norm. Pesticides undergo strict evaluation that costs many millions of pounds before they get an approval licence. They are far more target specific, less persistent and consequently much safer for everyone than ever before and reassuringly expensive! People in Agriculture are better trained than they have ever been and better informed of the consequence of their actions especially when it comes to chemicals and fertilisers. Increasing use of computers and electronics has also helped to make things safer and more accurate. It is probably fair to say that farms will get bigger because the efficiency that size brings cuts costs. That, however, is unlikely to be at the expense of field size, woodland or other natural habitat that need to be preserved for future generations.
Loss of Tradition - In the single word "Globalisation" is the explanation for the loss of many of the traditional farming methods. More and more buying power is being placed in fewer hands. There is one grower of top fruit in South America who is able to provide as much as the entire English crop for one Supermarket's demand for pears of the right quality and at the right price. The logistics and the size of the figures show that it can be and is being done. Kent is famous for hop growing but it has recently been said that no hops (other than novelty) will be grown in Kent inside five years. Much of the production has been shifted to Northern Germany where the climate is ideal and the necessary labour readily available.
Horsey-Culture - Since farm incomes have come under pressure in the last decade it is noticeable that many have "diversified" by using redundant farm buildings for a variety of uses. The "classic" is the conversion of the "Oast house" into residential property. There has been a move towards small industrial units as there is often grant money available for conversion costs (more will be made available from modulation as time goes on) and then there is diversified business growth such as horse livery yards. Where there is strong demand these can be quite successful. The Belmont Estate has little interest at present in pursuing any of the above.
Improve provision for walkers etc. - Eastling has a network of footpaths and bridleways which are relatively well maintained. Many farmers, however, do rely on the goodwill of the walking public to point out areas of weakness such as fallen trees, poor gates etc., so that problems can be brought to the attention of management and action taken. It is not practical to expect everything in what is a natural environment to be perfect all the time.
Sporting Facilities for the Young - There are none. The Belmont Estate offered the village for a commercial rent the 2½ acre in front of "The Carpenter's Arms". The people living in the vicinity did not wish this to happen and mobilised a very effective "no" campaign. The people who the facility would have benefited most did not really get involved in the debate and consequently the idea was dropped.
The Appraisal was carried out by the Eastling Parish Council with support from the Swale Borough Council in the spring of 2001. It was wide-ranging, with objective and comprehensive information on the village's history, natural and built environments, economy, people, services, transport, facilities and useful contacts.
The Main Points:
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