Country Life Manifesto – One year on

1 Make supermarkets stock at least 10% locally produced food

Success rating: *****


In 2002, 95% of fruit, and 50% of vegetables were imported. In 2005, super-markets imported 34% of all organic food, most of it by air, and food travelled 65% further than it did 20 years ago.


* Tesco currently stocks 7,000 local products

* In February, Sainsbury’s appointed 12 ‘regional champions’, who are responsible for buying local food.

* Both Sainsbury’s and Tesco run initiatives whereby small local producers can compete to have their products stocked nationwide.

* Asda will be stocking 3,500 local products from 300 local producers by the end of this year (up from 1,500 at the start of 2007), and currently operates 15 local sourcing centres, which, by the end of 2007, will have saved seven million food miles since 2002.

* Sales in the Waitrose ‘local initiative’ scheme are up 100% on last year, and the company now stocks regional fruit and vegetables in 86 stores, with 53 more stores being added by the end of the year. It currently stocks 1,200 products from 450 local suppliers.

2 Implement countryside classes in schools



Visits to farms had been slowly dwindling since the 1950s, although the Countryside Foundation for Education charity helps about 20,000 children each year visit farms and experience outdoor trips.


* The Government’s Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto was officially launched in November 2006, and has received hundreds of individual pledges of support from schools.

* In June 2007, the NFU launched Why Farming Matters teachers’ packs, which were commissioned by the NFU from the education charity Farming and Countryside Education (FACE).

* A total of 10,000 primary-school packs and 5,000 secondary-school packs have been produced.

* In September 2007, The Year of Food and Farming was launched, which enables children to visit farms and experience the countryside. The campaign, whose patron is Prince Charles, is endorsed by the Government and supported by the NFU and the CLA, among others.

* A new five-year strategy for schools, from the new Department for Children, Schools and Families, includes a pledge to encourage more ‘visits’, but it does not specify the type of trip.

3 Inject more research and investment into biofuels



Farmers were producing 3.5 million more tons of grain than they were able to sell, which could have been sold to bioethanol fuel producers, but in September 2006, there wasn’t a bio-ethanol plant anywhere in Britain.


* The European Energy Policy commits member states to using biofuels for at least 10% of their transport fuel needs by 2020.

* Britain is already developing a biofuels market through the Renewable Trans-port Fuel Obligation which will, from April 2008, place an obligation on fuel suppliers to ensure that a certain percentage of their aggregate sales is made up of biofuels. So, by 2010, 5% of all UK fuel sold on UK forecourts must come from a renewable source. That will remove about a million tons of carbon from the UK’s annual emissions—the equivalent of taking a million cars off the road.

* In January, Wessex Grain’s subsidiary Green Spirit Fuels was granted planning permission to build Britain’s first bio-ethanol plant at Henstridge, which will eventually convert 340,000 tons of locally grown wheat each year into 131 million tons of bioethanol.

* Tesco is the first major retailer to have introduced biofuel into its standard petrol and diesel.

4 Increase funding so that all villages and counties have design statements



Some villages did have their own design statements, but there was no proper co-ordinated progamme, and, at county level, no coherent strategy.


* In November 2006, the Government’s housing guideline booklet included a clause urging local authorities to consult Village Design Statements before undertaking any building.

* From April 2008, you will have to submit a planning application using a new form that takes design statements into account.

* At present, some 200 villages have Village Design Statements (VDS): Chelmsford Borough has seven VDSs. Statements have also been adopted

by Leeds City Council for Bardsey, Bramhope, East Keswick, Thorp Arch, Far Headingley, Hawksworth and Adel. Many parts of Cornwall also now have a VDS, as does Welford-on-Avon, near Stratford-upon-Avon; Greatham near Hartlepool; and Felton near Alnwick to name but a few.

5 Protect the night sky



Some 99% of Western Europeans never see a natural night sky. The Campaign for Dark Skies (CfDS) had some success when the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Bill came into force in April 2006, making light pollution a statutory nuisance. However, the new law doesn’t include transport premises, such as bus and railway stations, and the CfDS is working to change this.


* Several councils, including Hamp-shire County Council, Poole Borough Council, and Portsmouth, Leicester and Liverpool City Councils, have all recently created plans for their local areas to limit light pollution.

* On June 21, 2007, major London landmarks switched off their lights for the first time since the Second World War in an effort to highlight light pollution.

* The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is currently lobbying the Southampton Partnership to abandon plans for a permanent laser show in Southampton.

6 Eradicate the grey squirrel, American mink and the American signal crayfish



All three species are causing significant environmental damage, despite existing control efforts: in 2006, it was announced that American mink may be responsible for the extinction of the water vole by 2012, having reduced its numbers by 95% since 1990 (although the invention of the Mink Raft trap in 2002 has helped to control mink numbers); and 30,000 white-clawed crayfish died in Northumberland in May 2004 alone as a result of illnesses carried by the American signal crayfish.


* The control of grey squirrels is focused in southern Scotland and northern England at present, as the first case of the squirrel pox virus was confirmed in Lockerbie only a few months ago.

* Neither Forest Research nor the Red Squirrels in South Scotland Project (RSSS) believe that eradication is possible, and Defra and the Forestry Commission state that eradication is ‘neither feasible nor desirable’.

* Defra is currently investigating fertility- control methods, and estimates that there are two million grey squirrels in Britain.

* In April, the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust met with 50 conservationists to discuss better ways of trapping the mink, and agrees that the Mink Raft trap system has proved a highly successful method of population control.

* It’s illegal to release signal and other non-native crayfish species into British waters. However, signal crayfish are now believed to be present in more than 80% of river catchments in mainland UK.

* In February, the Environment Agency added its support to the Government-led Invasive Non-Native Species Framework Strategy, which has concluded that population control for crayfish has thus far proved inadequate. High Impact Fisheries Enforcement (HIFE) officers now patrol regularly to catch people fishing or trapping for crayfish illegally. There have been reports of otters dying in traps.

7  Harmonise VAT on new buildings and renovations at 5%



Renovations were charged at a reduced rate of 5%, as were new buildings, although these could have been zero-rated. Restoration work on historic buildings was charged at the full rate of 17.5%. The Chancellor of the Exchequer promised VAT refunds for restoration work on places of worship or memorials.


* EU regulations forbid any increase in the current number of VAT zero rates, and any reductions in rates are closely monitored. However, some changes have been made since the last budget.

* VAT is not charged on the construction of new communal residential buildings, such as hospices or care homes.

* When converting a non-residential building into a communal residential building, a reduced rate of 5% VAT applies.

* Business use of a building primarily constructed for charitable purposes does-n’t have to be declared, as long as it doesn’t exceed 10% of the overall use.

* Voluntary-aided schools are also exempt from VAT, providing that their use is at least 90% charitable.

* Certain alterations to a house, in order to accommodate an elderly person, also carry a reduced VAT rate of 5%.

* VAT will continue to be refunded on restoration work done on church buildings and monuments, and listed buildings also benefit from a VAT zero-rating for ‘approved alterations’, but they must be carried out by a VAT-registered builder.

8 Bring back the village bobby



In 2005, the Government stated that, by 2008, every community would receive its own policing team.


* According to a 2007 survey conducted by the Tax Payers’ Alliance, fewer than a quarter of people think policing in their area has improved.

* Three-quarters don’t know the name of a single police officer in their neighbourhood, and the Government is still working towards the 2005 pledge.

* To achieve it, funding worth £340 million will be released between 2007 and 2008, to provide special constables, as well as 24,000 community support officers to work beside wardens.

9 Ensure that all houses have a water meter



In the late 1990s, very few people had meters—just 8% of Thames Water users; 13% of South West Water and Wessex area customers; and 28% of Anglian Water users.


* It is still the case that, in Eng-land and Wales, only 30% of houses have a water meter. However, the Environment Agency hopes that, by 2025, 75% of households will be metered, and has recently said that suppliers in areas where there is water shortage will be able to apply for compulsory metering for entire regions.

* Fifty-two per cent of Cambridge Water customers now have meters, and 53% of Anglian and South West Water users have meters, although the latter believes that, by 2010, two-thirds of its customers will have made the switch.

* Folkestone and Dover Water Services aims to have 90% of its customers on a meter within the next 10 years, as opposed to the current figure of 40%, and has tried to introduce compulsory metering in the past.

* Welsh Water says that just over 20% of its customers are currently metered.

10 Ban plastic supermarket bags



Thirteen billion plastic bags are used each year in the UK, despite the Bag for Life being introduced in 1997. Only 12% of consumers regularly use a Bag for Life although 45% have one and 40% of the UK population has more than 40 plastic bags in their home at any one time.


* In May 2007, the Devon market town of Modbury became the first place in Europe to ban plastic bags entirely. All 43 traders and shopkeepers have stopped giving them to customers, and instead offer free, 100% biodegradable cornstarch bags, recyclable paper bags, or reusable cotton and jute bags,

supplied by a local company.

* Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire stopped giving away plastic bags in September. Overton in Hampshire also banned plastic bags shortly after. Both towns are offering customers reusable bags instead, made of a mix of cotton, string and corn starch.

* North Berwick, near Edinburgh, and Amberley, West Sussex, are currently in the process of abolishing plastic bags.

* In April, Sainsbury’s spent £700,000 giving away free Bags for Life after banning plastic bags for one day.

* Tesco customers use four billion bags each year, but the shop offers reward points to customers who refuse them.

* Waitrose offers free reusable bags for Quick Check users.

* Marks & Spencer announced last month that, in selected stores across England from February, customers will be charged 5p per bag.

* Asda recently closed its Goodies for Schools scheme, whereby parents were rewarded with school vouchers each time they reused a plastic bag.

* Retailers have agreed to work with Government to reduce the environ-mental impact of single-use shopping bags (both paper and plastic) by 25% by the end of 2008. This reduction equates to 3.25 billion fewer bags being used and will save 58,500 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road for the same amount of time.

* In London, a bill is being debated that proposes banning all throwaway bags from 2009 after a consultation revealed that 60% of Londoners support a ban.