Why I Care about the Countryside

Why I Care about the Countryside

by Lizzie Bannister

I care about many things – cats, the state of our wildlife, access to Netflix, the welfare of horses and the continuation of equine sports, our farmers, celebrities and magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, our local businesses, and so on. And I like to try to use my money to support the things I care about. For example, I bought torches from our local DIY shop rather than online for an event I am running on behalf of a local nature reserve. I donate to the things I care about - usually animal and environmental charities, and I’m often a member of these organisations too.

I generally feel that health and social charities are well-supported, so although I do sometimes support this type of cause I prefer to help give a voice to those causes that do not have the same power, for example working horses and donkeys from abroad.

So, it is second nature for me to keep supporting the countryside charity, CPRE.  But it goes deeper than that because I value the countryside for many reasons. I use it for my horse riding and keeping, and this pastime has been invaluable - I am slightly disabled, but it offers me an equal footing to progress and hone my skills just like everyone else. I do not think I would do as well as in any other activity. It also gives me a way to connect with the outdoors – through my local bridleways, having to go outside in all weathers to look after the horses and competing or having clinics at many venues across the county.

I also care about the countryside because it is key to our future and that is something I have always known, probably because I had been exposed to the rural way of life on a smallholding, looking after animals in the midst of arable landscapes. Windswept dog walks, bringing horses in in the rain and feeding chickens in the snow made me realise how close we are to nature - and how vulnerable we are to it.  With this came an understanding of the limits of our natural resources and the need to save energy, recycle, and look after nature. I studied all of this to Masters level and knew about climate change before it started hitting the headlines.

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading history books lately and wished I’d studied History at University - maybe I still will one day! But it is more likely that I will get on with developing my riding and enjoy being an armchair historian, witch and culture vulture. After all, why not – I want to contribute as little as possible to the loss of our natural world. I may despair at the over-development and loss of nature – I suspect our house sparrows disappeared because they were hanging onto threads of green that were recently cut by a new housing development on a nearby field. Sadness may engulf me but I remember that gardens still support wildlife, people do need homes and farmers markets are still a “thing”. I have hope still.  And anyway, history suggests that agriculture has always had an impact on the rise and fall of human civilisations.

Our post-Covid world echoes past times.  The eastern Roman Empire survived the downfall of Rome only to experience a plague leading to a rise in wheat prices. Climate change lead to migration (which contributed to the downfall of Rome) and the development of new farming practices which in turn benefitted mankind - the Middle Ages prospered, in part, due to the success of twinning horse harnesses leading to more efficient farming. So much of human history is entwined with, and dependent on, the countryside.

So, the countryside contributes to my personal growth: caring for horses leads me to care about the environment, and the future of the entire human race. It transpires that I care about the countryside because I care about me, and I also care about people. Our health and well-being benefits enormously from the countryside sand the natural world, but I’m not sure that our politicians realise this; they seem to overly focus on technology to the detriment of the natural world. It is not the case of the chicken or the egg – it is the case of the chicken surviving the fox to produce the egg.