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Relaxing break from the great rural rip-off

Friday 27 April 2007

This has been a week of mixed emotions for anyone passionate about the English countryside but our rural affairs commentator John Sheard finds time to sit back and relax, thanks to a message from across the Atlantic

FOR anyone scanning the media this week for news affecting rural life - and particularly, rural life in the Yorkshire Dales - it has been a roller coaster ride. My personal feelings have ranged from quiet satisfaction - fairly unusual that, I admit - to feather spitting rage, which is more like par for the course.

And as I am planning a relaxing weekend in the Lake District, quieter now that the Easter throngs have thinned and regroup for the next Bank Holiday bonanza, let's get shot of the angry bit first.

bluebells
Bluebells: a welcome break from the rural rip off

Once again, rural England is to be ripped off to pay for a London extravaganza which has all the makings of a Dome-like disaster: the 2012 London Olympics. It was revealed on Tuesday that the so-called "good causes" supported by the National Lottery are to be relieved of £675 million to help pay for these because, as usual, the Government wilfully under-estimated the cost.

That has jumped three-fold from some £3 billion to nearer £10 billion (these are Government "guesstimates") and what was supposed to be an all-London party has now become a national lame duck. What's more, it is already been hinted that the rest of the bill will have to be picked up by "general taxation" - i.e., from crippling taxes already being paid by country folk who will see no benefit whatsoever from the games.

Even worse, here in the Dales Craven District Council may soon be joining the great sports rip-off by imposing huge business rate rises of local golf and rugby clubs, so big that they could actually put some of them out of business at a time when politicians are boasting of encouraging more sport to fight the national obesity crisis.

Reason: the council is strapped for cash. And this, according to local taxpayer groups, is because they keep on recruiting more and more bureaucrats even though the council itself may soon be scrapped. The decision to rip-off the clubs has been postponed temporarily. Could that be because there is an election next month?

Worrying, too, was a report that yet another species of much-loved English wildlife, the bluebell, very symbol of early summer, has joined the long-list of native animals and plants under threat from foreign invaders (see News).

A type of Spanish bluebell, imported by garden centres, is interbreeding with the native species and threatens to take them over. Will there ever be an end to the stupidity of importing foreign species? In America, you can go to jail for trying to smuggle plants and seeds into the country.

Joanne Darland described our piece as "a lovely and most necessary article"

But enough of all this gloom. It was in fact a message from America on our Have your Say board (See April 14) that has made the week bearable. Joanne Darling logged on from Massachusetts to praise a piece we posted last week about efforts to help the hedgehog survive the strange weather of this spring.

Joanne Darland described our piece as "a lovely and most necessary article" although the hedgehog is not native to the USA (millions of American children know it, however, as Mr Prickles from myriad children's stories).

It so happens that this week, the British Hedgehog Preservation Society celebrated its 25th anniversary (see News) one of those wonderful, slightly dotty, English charities which seem so quiet and charming until they bare some very real teeth: not many voluntary organisations have taken on giants like Macdonald's and won.

So, Thank you Ms Darland from New England and Thank you the BHPS: when we have kindly, literate and, if necessary, vocal amateurs looking after the interests of our countryside, the politicians will always have a hard time in messing it up. Have a good weekend!

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