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If our landscape truly belongs to us all, we must stop romanticising it

6 17 49

Michael Gove has now been secretary of state for the environment for more than six months and, believe me, this isn’t easy to write, he appears to be doing a decent job. It induces a particular kind of cognitive dissonance in the liberal left, seeing him making such lucid and laudable policy decisions.

Gove is behind the government’s post-Blue Planet drive on plastic waste; the banning of microbeads; the volte-face on the use of neonicotinoids; the outlawing of ivory sales; reintroducing beavers. He has listened to the very experts he derided in the build-up to the Brexit vote and, by tapping into a peculiarly British engagement with nature and landscape, seems to be staging the most unlikely of political comebacks.

The latest move, announced at the Oxford Farming Conference (Gove also, admirably, was the first environment secretary to make time for the rival, eco-friendly, Real Farming Conference), is to use money currently paid out to the country’s largest landowners to invest instead in a series of “public goods”. These will be “planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states”.

This vision of post-Brexit Britain is illustrated by Arthur Rackham – idyllic, flower-strewn, dreamlike. It’s also profoundly conservative and driven by an acute sensitivity to issues of class. The British landscape as we understand it was a creation of the landed gentry in the 17th and 18th centuries; it is largely managed and artificial,........

© The Guardian