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From Norfolk RCC
Norfolk Rural Support Network gathers together organisations and individuals from all sectors across our rural society. We hold 3 seminars each year on subjects relevant to the day and to the rural communities in Norfolk.
All are welcome!
Report on our latest seminar held on 10 November 2010, "Highs and Lows of Retiring to Rural Norfolk".
The next meeting will be “Rural Business – what next?” and is being held on Monday, 7 November 2011 at Sports Centre, Easton College, Norwich, 10.30am to 1.30pm. The Chairman is to be David Lawrence, Principal of Easton College, and the speakers will be Edwin Jones, Partnership Director, Rural Gateway and a representative from the Federation of Small Businesses.
Enquiries to Margaret Hill (Secretary) - Email:email@example.com
52.662433, 0.973663Central Norfolk
10th Anniversary Event
St Walstan Hall, the Norfolk Show Ground
Friday, 10th June 2011
Michael Butler, NRSN Chairman, introduced Mr John Purling, Chief Executive
Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, as Chairman for today’s meeting.
Mr Purling on reading “Ten Years On”, a brief history of the Norfolk Rural Support Network (NRSN), didn’t think much had changed and in fact things had probably got worse. No one would have imagined back then that the cost of petrol would rise to £1.40 a litre which is hard on everyone but particularly those living in rural areas, with little or no public transport, who have no choice but to travel by car. Mr Purling then spoke about food production and the problem of feeding the growing world population. It is estimated that this will be over 20 billion by 2050 but there is still enormous opposition to GM – genetically modified – crops. GM has got to be part of food production in the future if we are to prevent the world from starvation. We all have a duty to promote and convince people of the advantages of GM to control yields, to control disease and achieve compatibility among plants. It is the only way we are going to be able to feed the world. There have been enormous advances in communication methods. Seventy years ago an MP would receive about 50 letters a day. Nowadays an average MP gets about 1700 emails a day all of which have to be answered. The Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association sees social media as an essential communication tool for the future. 600 million people worldwide are on Facebook which means they can communicate with each other at the touch of a button. This number will increase and people who do not take advantage of it and make it work for them will be left behind. Mr Purling said that agricultural shows across the country are flourishing with roughly 6 million, or 6%, of the population attending annually. The shows do their utmost of promote everything good about food, farming and the countryside. Here in Norfolk 6000 school children visit the Show to follow dedicated food trails. The trails are put together with the teachers and work in tandem with the current school curriculum. Every child who hands in a completed trail receives a free entrance to the show. This means the RNAA is effectively funding young people to attend the show. Another child orientated event is the “Spring Fling”. Numbers attending have to be limited to 5000 so that those who do attend can engage with the exhibitions, promotions and activities and really go away having learned something. The RNAA attaches great importance to supporting the whole spectrum of the rural scene.
Mr Purling then introduced the Right Rev’d Graham James, Bishop of Norwich.
Bishop Graham said how pleased he was to be at the event as he had been at the Network launch ten years ago in Prior’s Hall in Cathedral Close. As Mr Purling had said there had been many, many changes during that time, some of which had unexpected and unforeseen consequences but on the whole society had coped. Owing to the highly urban, even metropolitan outlook held by most people the rural scene is often not understood. However, in the House of Lords there is an army of people from Norfolk who do understand the nature of rural life and appreciate the contribution that agriculture and rural business make. It is often not appreciated that the rural population is growing as well as ageing. In the middle part of this past decade the net migration to rural areas in Great Britain was around 100,000 a year. There is a perception that the rural areas of this country are being depopulated which is not true. Also some rural communities have been much more adaptable to change than they have been given credit for. For example the rise then decline in the number of migrant workers have been absorbed in rural communities without anything like the stress that has been experienced in some of the inner cities. Bishop Graham said that he could remember going to Attleborough where the parish church services were being translated in Polish and Lithuanian for the benefit of the nationals from those countries. Such harmonious living is seldom mentioned.
There are 110 church schools in the diocese some of which are quite small and rural. When visiting the Bishop often asks a class, or even the whole school, how many of them live on farms and even in sparsely populated rural areas it is not unusual to find a school where no child at all lives on a farm even in the most rural parts of Norfolk. This reflects not only on the changing age range of farmers but also the way rural life has become more urban in its outlook. Mr Purling mentioned the “Spring Fling” which is important not just for urban children but for rural ones as well who lead lives that are remarkably isolated from the land.
Bishop Graham said that over the last ten years he has been constantly irritated by the continual tinkering with rural policies that are too short lived to achieve anything. While he is in favour of the local community being given some power, and he doesn’t doubt the good intentions of the Localism Bill that has just been published, but the document runs to 512 pages which gives the Secretary of State 142 new powers over local communities. Also irritating for local communities is to be given yet another initiative that looks exactly the same as the one that was there seven or eight years ago but never came to fruition.
Bishop Graham said that the serious point he wanted to make before handing over to Baroness Shephard was about food which Mr Purling also mentioned. For the first time the government does seem to be taking seriously food security. This has been talked about for a long time and not many people would listen and the £26m new money for research at the Norwich Research Park was related to new methods of food production. It is estimated that food production in the world will have to increase by 40% by 2030 to feed everyone. 40% by 2030, within the next 20 years. The Institute for Food Research and the other bodies which make up the Norwich Research Park are absolutely key players not for just the county or country but to feed the world. David Richardson, farmer and journalist, recently came up with some astonishing figures. As world population expands agricultural production in developed countries has been in decline. That is a terrifying thought. In 1985 there were 74m ewes in New Zealand today there are only 30m. Less than half of what there were in 1985. At the same time in Australia there were 200m ewes in 1990, now there are just 70m. In the UK there were 21m out of 50m. In 1990 the UK had 700,000 sows, it is now down to 400,000. People are not aware of this. Throughout the last 20 years the UK population has grown by about a third of a million annually while food production has fallen. This is made up for by access to world markets. Water of course is key to food production. Less water is going to be available in the future and that is especially true for the southern hemisphere. Bruce Langford from the UEA has written about “virtual water”. In the UK we receive 65 billion litres of water from other parts of the world in imported food stuffs and this water comes from countries that have much less water than the UK and which are likely to have much less in the future.
Everyday each person in the UK consumes far more of this virtual water than real water in drinks, food preparation or hygiene, and it is the consumption of water which is much needed elsewhere in drier parts of the world that is used in the production of food that is actually flown to us. It is impossible for that situation to continue because ground water supplies are dangerously low. The way things are organised now cannot be sustained and it is not simply to do with climate change. So the challenges for the future are enormous. But here in Norfolk an immense amount of research is being done at the Institute of Food Research and the Research Park which needs to be enhanced, supported and celebrated.
Mr Purling thanked Bishop Graham for his talk and introduced Baroness Shephard of Northwold.
Baroness Shephard started by saying that this day was a celebration of 10 years of work on the part of very varied organisations to support rural communities. She congratulated everyone on their vision in setting up the Norfolk Rural Support Network in the first place and on putting in the hard work and effort needed to sustain its work over the past ten years. It was interesting to look back at the context of the first conference in 2001 and at the sense of near despair which was at that time engulfing rural areas and all aspects of agricultural life, with the horror of Foot & Mouth Disease which was devastating the rural economy, and worse, the feeling that no one particularly cared – the then Agriculture Minister remarking, “The world is awash with food for us to import”.
It is also interesting to look at the subjects covered by the seminars held over the last ten years and she congratulated the Network on the way in which the seminars have been held around the county and mostly in village halls. The seminars had recurring themes of resources, access to public services, challenges for the young and old, health issues but above all the Network has addressed the problems and opportunities presented by inexorable change in the countryside, most fascinatingly illustrated by the talks by Richard Rockcliffe, who is a county councillor but also a farmer from the west of the county, and by Clarke Willis, Executive Director of Anglia Farmers who spoke at the most recent seminar held in March this year. Both described how farming and its production and employment patterns have had to adapt to change. Each described in different ways how a positive attitude to change, while not easy, can be successful.
Richard Rockcliffe spoke on how his father had acquired the family farm at South Runcton in the 1950s, the crops that were grown, the employment and marketing patterns, all of which have had to change with changed economic circumstances and environmental demands. He said, “The average consumer now spends 13% of disposable income on food and drink. In 1970 that figure was 26%. In the last decade food prices have risen by just 1.3%, whereas the RPI has risen by 4.1% at least.” The result for farmers has been that they have had to employ far fewer people, use increasingly sophisticated and more expensive machinery, seed and fertilisers, and often join forces to provide economies of scale. The result for the countryside has been continued change and increased stress in adapting to it.
In March this year Clarke Willis described the changes to his company since 2003 when Loddon Farmers and Mid Norfolk Farmers merged to form Anglia Farmers. At that time the annual turnover of the company was c. £40 million, and there were some 650 members. There are now in 2011, 2,500 members and a turnover of some £200 million. Particularly interesting were the company’s efforts to provide a service for individuals and other organisations including PCCs and parish churches through its subsidiary Affinity. Mr Willis said, “the challenge is to provide food at prices that people are prepared to pay.”
Baroness Shephard went on to say that she was born in Knapton in North East Norfolk. Together with 50 or so people with whom she was at primary school in the village, she has just completed a book about a century of rural change as seen through their eyes and the life of the village. Central to that change has been the fortunes of agriculture. Agriculture dominated the life of their village and this county in the 1930, 40s and 50s. While preparing the book they surveyed 45 children who attended Knapton School between 1934 and 1961. The children had between them 35 fathers, and of those 20 were either farmers or farm workers, teammen, foremen, pig men, stock men or farm managers. Four fathers were gardeners and 3 of the mothers also worked on the land. But of the 45 children only 2 became farm workers, and only 3 farmers, all three sons of farmers who took on their family farm.
Baroness Shephard said that change is constant for us and for our predecessors and successors. She said that Norfolk Rural Support Network, with its supporting organisations and regular programme of challenging seminars provided over the last ten years, has played a role in helping communities face up to change. She wondered how the Network envisage the next ten years.
After the first meeting in 2001 Canon Butler, Sally Mitchell, Anita Hart and Majors Betty and Richard Jones contacted 58 individuals and organisations who attended, and asked the following 8 questions:
Q 1: What troubles you most about the rural situation as you see it today?
Q 2: What remedies do you think are possible?
Q 3: The supermarkets don’t seem to get a good Press. Do you think that is fair?
Q 4: What ethical questions in food production do you have to address?
Q 5: What do you think poverty in rural Norfolk really means? Can we identify?
Q 6: What do you think will happen to the countryside if agriculture does not receive appropriate support?
Q 7: How do we create a better understanding between the urban and rural communities? What practical steps could be taken to do this?
Q 8: In your situation what changes have affected you personally?
and in the notice for today’s meeting wonders if one should be asking the same questions today. Baroness Shephard said that of course the questions are still relevant but there have been some improvements, not least in a greater prominence for the problems of agriculture, food production and the countryside in some parts of the media. The local Eastern Daily Press continues to campaign for everything that affects Norfolk’s economy. For example a dualled All, faster broadband and the continuance of RAF Marham. So too do BBC Radio Norfolk, Look East and Anglia TV. Ignorance still reigns in the national media where not long ago in the Daily Telegraph she spotted a reference to a female cow. She is looking forward to asking the journalist what a male cow looks like. Baroness Shephard has been extremely irritated by the weather forecasters continual references to the wonderful barbecue weather and have only in the last few weeks realised that East Anglia is in the worst drought since records began with its inevitable effect on food supplies, prices and water shortages.
On a positive note Baroness Shephard said that there has been a huge increase in food, cooking and eating and in locally produced food which can only help the farmers. There are more farmers’ markets, local food awards and high standard catering courses in the local colleges. Norfolk is beginning to feature in good food guides and reviews which provide not only outlets for produce but also skilled job opportunities. Eastern College continues to take a leading role in adaptation to change in the countryside and in preparing young people for changing rural employment patterns. She praised the work of old established societies such a the Stalham Farmers Club and the Stoke Ferry Discussion Group, the National Farmers Union (NFU) and the Country Land & Business Association (CLA) all doing wonderful work to keep the rural agenda in the foreground. Together with the voluntary organisations and county and district parish councils all play their part in preparing for change. That has been the theme for the Network’s work over the last ten years.
Baroness Shephard praised the reports on the seminars held over this time and wondered if consideration had been given to publishing them. She also wondered if the Network had identified specific concerns which should be taken up with the agencies concerned or through MPs and councillors. She felt the results coming out of the seminars should be given a wider circulation. She ended by congratulating NRSN on what they had achieved over the last ten years and wished it well for the future.
Mr Purling thanked Baroness Shephard and closed the meeting. Edwin Jones gave the vote of thanks to the speakers and also acknowledged the hard work of Mrs Chaplin in providing such an appetising lunch.
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