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Salmon, seeds and, sadly, more politics

Friday 07 February 2003

Our country columnist John Sheard is dragged away from important matters of country life -like fly fishing and gardening - by the incessant uproar caused by politicians banging the rural drum

THIS should have been one of my favourite weeks of the year. Although the weather was awful, spring is just around the corner and early February is a busy time for me.

The salmon fishing season opened and it was time to start planting the first seeds in my electrically heated propagators so that, come march or April, I will have adolescent plants to go out, first into the cold frame, then into the veg plot under cloches - that's the only way to get a decent growing season high up in the Pennines.

John Sheard - Founder member of the John Prescott Fan Club

That was the plan. Theoretically. For a start, I no longer fish for spring salmon - they are so scarce that we have a moratorium against taking them from my stretch of river in the hope that it will help build up breeding stocks.

On the garden front, things were also pretty bad: out of 48 broad bean plants over-wintered in the cold frame, just six survived. The post mortem revealed that the rest had just rotted away in the dampness even in the closed frame. Next winter, I must remember to open it up more often on frost-free days.

I was just contemplating starting long-overdue work to repair the doors of my potting shed when, alas, it started: a barrage of news from the politicians who, it seems to me, have decided that rural affairs are a major bone of contention to be picked up in the teeth and shaken half to death.

First came a "sounding" questionnaire from Craven District Council asking how I viewed the possibility of a referendum on the possibility of created a regional parliament.

This sent me into a rage because, should we ever get one, it would be an absolute disaster for the countryside. Craven council, and perhaps North Yorkshire County Council too, would disappear and we would be totally dominated by votes from the towns and big cities of South and West Yorkshire.

Then, the following day, the CPRE was raging against plans to concrete over much of South East England and bulldoze a lot of the North. They did not seem over concerned that, in North Yorkshire and York, almost 43,000 new houses are planned, most of them on Greenfield sites. That seems quite a lot to me, I thought, my mind turning back to the replacement broad beans I was about to plant.

Then I realised that behind both these plans lay the shambling figure of Mr John Prescott, Deputy Prime Minister and MP for a Hull constituency where the local council has just gone bust despite pocketing millions from selling of its private telephone exchange.

Now the last person or thing I wanted to write about this week was John Prescott. For years, I have regarded him as little more than a joke. But here is a man nearing the end of his political shelf life and he wants to do something to leave his mark on history.

That could mean saddling us with a local Parliament likely to be as efficient at Hull City Council - and losing tens of thousands more acres of North Yorkshire for commuter housing when, in the urban wastelands of Leeds, Bradford and Hull, there of hundreds of brown-field sites crying out for restoration and re-development.

I would much rather write about the rest of my planting - it's time to put in garlic, herbs like tarragon, mint and parsley, and early cabbage - but unless people are aware of the plans of Two Jags Prescott and his likes, both in London and Brussels, they will do nothing until it is too late.

As the man said, "The price of freedom is constant vigilance." I'll be doing my bit to oppose both the above plans. I hope others will join me.

In the meantime, what am I going to do about the rabbit which has taken up residence under the cloches protecting my perpetual spinach, thus gaining both bed and breakfast at my expense?

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