“What right do townies have to comment on rural affairs”

The above quote is one I have heard uttered numerous times of late, and see aired fairly frequently on social media. Usually  by members of rural factions, disgruntled when their practices and pastimes are called into question by those removed from the rural bubble. By “townies” and other urbanites. These infuriating words indicative of an increasingly common view – that because those speaking out against rural workings do not share the rural way of life, that our opinions are somehow invalid, or at the very least, less important than those of the people who live and work in the countryside. A rather silly view, that I fully disagree with.


Claims that “townies” and “arm-chair conservationists” do not live and work in the countryside are all well and good. Many of them do not, yet continue to campaign, and voice concern over rural issues nonetheless. With each and all well within their rights to do so. Particularly when said issues, centred in the rural world,  have far-ranging impacts, as is so often the case. Not that you would believe that said people have the right to comment, at least if the concerned outpourings of a select few rural folk are anything to go by. Indeed, some seem positively perplexed (and rather angry) when “townies” take a dislike to their antics and take a stand for the countryside.

Let’s take the quagmire that is the driven grouse shooting debate for an example. Many people – over 116,000 – have currently taken up arms against the hobby. Due, in no small part, to a wealth of scientific evidence that suggests the pastime is having a negative impact upon our countryside. Many of these people live in cities and many, I suspect, have never picked up a shotgun, nor ventured on to a game estate in their lives, yet they continue to exercise their right to freedom of speech nonetheless. Only to find themselves attacked, in some cases rather vigorously, for holding an opinion on something from which they, themselves, are apparently detached. At least in terms of location. With such attacks usually centred on the belief that because someone does not live in the countryside, that they are therefore ignorant to its workings. And that because “townies” have never tended a herd, performed a controlled burn, or shot a grouse, that they boast no knowledge of the areas where such things take place. This is far from the truth.

Now more than ever, “townies” are educated thoroughly with regards to rural issues and are easily able to form an accurate opinion following a few precise Google searches. There are, after all, a number of experts in the countryside who share their findings quite frequently with the world, therefore educating many people. People who, once enlightened, many then choose to act – much to the annoyance of those living in the thick of it. Some of whom, appear to view these people as outsiders commenting on an issue that does not affect them. A wholly preposterous trend, apparent in everything from the fox hunting debate to the current badger cull. 

The truth of it is, townies – I really hate that word – have as much right to comment on rural issues as those living in rural areas. They are people, and people are entitled to both hold and act upon an opinion. As I said in my recent post regarding attempts to gag Chris Packham, and will not discuss again. They are also, in some cases at least, the people who appreciate our countryside the most. Often utilising it as an escape from the tedious grey and general monotony of urban life. With many choosing to spend their hard earned cash and valuable time in a rural setting – thus contributing to the workings of the rural community. Are they not then entitled to a view on what the countryside should look like?

In visiting the countryside many towns folk develop a liking for certain aspects of it. Whether that be forests, hen harriers or bumblebees. As a result, many visit rural areas to see these features first hand and to enjoy them in a natural setting. What then happens when, because of the actions of rural people, their visits draw a blank? With no hen harriers to admire due to illegal persecution, or bumblebees due to the willy-nilly use of pesticides. Are they not then entitled to want them back? and thus, to do all that is within their power to ensure that this happens?

I am, by all accounts, a townie – I live in a town, and always have. Not a sprawling urban metropolis, but a town nevertheless. Despite this, I also work in the countryside, and when I am not working, visit it for recreation. To view the species that I personally care about. Every day now I see another slight inflicted upon said species, every day I witness (and read about) the slights inflicted upon our countryside by those who live and work within its reaches. Am I not entitled to want to rectify these, despite my choice of abode? To work towards ensuring that the species I treasure remain alive and well.

For me wildlife is a hobby, and a way of life, much as it is for many other “townies”, and we are entitled to defend it. In much the same way as those in favour of rural hobbies – shooting and the like – are entitled to defend theirs. A townies opinion is just as important as any others, and people must remember that. Especially given the number of passionate townies out there. Enough to prove a deciding factor in any debate surrounding the wildlife we have come to love.

11 Comments on ““Townies” have every right to comment on rural affairs

  1. One important point every ‘townie’ needs to remember is that it is their taxes, their contributions to government and thence to the EU (and probably after Brexit, too) which makes up the huge payments made to the rural land-owners, often simply for just owning land. They have a right to have a say in what happens in the countryside, because they are paying for it.

    Our Moorland Vision coalition is currently trying to persuade the National Trust to manage two of its moorland estates in the Peak District better by NOT reappointing any grouse-shooting tenant (having just served notice on the current incumbent to quit – you’ve probably all seen the video of the camouflaged man on a grouse moor with the gun and hen harrier decoy). Whether rural or ‘townie’, we’d welcome signatures to get our message across that restoring the moors and not farming them for grouse is the right way for this particular conservation charity to act. More info at: http://www.nomoorshooting.blogspot.co.uk

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    • Hi, thank you for your comment! I do believe I was just reading about your project recently. It’s a great idea, and thank you for taking a stand. I will sign, and if you ever want to write a guest post, I will push it on the various sites I write for! 🙂

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    • Which in itself is misleading, not all landowners take the subsidy, I myself do not, and as a mater of principle claim no payment of support for my farming activities – as over half of my local area……..
      The national trust and other large landlords are mostly the problem, the NT for myriad of reasons (Its a self replicating job machine) – the problem is the narrowing of activity – the shooting more I graze, if I were to leave would need to burn more, feed more, and cut more cover to function. In many ways the decline in small grazier farmers underlies the drive to more intensive moorland management.
      Address that, and much of the issue goes away.

      Turning this into a town v country, left v right, business vs nice eco fight serves no one and misses the point and the solution.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on seamussweeney and commented:
    I have found James Common’s blog wonderful and consistently interesting and thought-provoking. I have posted what is a somewhat diffuse and rambling point as a comment on this blog post.. My comment may be tl;dr so essentially I agree with James’ point completely, but have a concern that Winning Arguments and Getting Legislation Passed won’t change attitudes and behaviours….

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  3. I think alienation of any person whether townie or urbanite (and I must say I detest such phrases) is never a fruitful exercise, especially in our area of interest James, that being nature conservation. As something in the region of 85 to 90 percent of the land is under rural management, you would think their voices could and perhaps should be heard other ours? Small wonder they don’t always like the urban living population preaching to them when only a tiny majority even venture into the countryside. I say all of this from my viewpoint as a yes you guessed it, a townie, so how can this be?

    Firstly, all of the UK countryside is managed in one way or tother and it is only when certain practices are brought to the attention of the masses do we question these on our perceived moral grounds. The danger in this is that we as urbanites didn’t grow up in the countryside, tend to be disconnected from it and to be fair, know jack s^*t about much of what goes on. I say give them more exposure, follow a few members of the farming community online, talk to these keepers, land managers and farmers, they’re only human after all.

    The important thing and this is a good life lesson, which is to only speak out on a topic once you’ve grasped everything there is to know. In fact, I still stand by my recent LinkedIn comment where I stated that several celebrity rural commentators are mostly non-farmers and non-rural types with regressive conservation views. Only when you’ve talked to all sides, listened to all the scientific evidence and understood the pros and cons on certain issues can you be satisfied in your own belief that you are morally right. This takes years to achieve and as a non-rural living chap, I’ve had to thoroughly engross myself in understanding their lifestyle. Along the way, I have learned a lot but have also made a few mistakes along the way. The worse kind of mistakes are those knee-jerk reactionary comments, which on Social Media are easily achieved and less easily deleted from people’s memories.

    Best Wishes and once again, a fascinating topic you’ve covered here.

    Tony Powell and naturestimeline

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    • I agree in full Tony! Social media exasipates the situation, and does not necessarily help. As it is Townies taxes (as well as rural folk) that fund many farms, estates, I do believe they should have a say. But would prefer it if they did some research before preaching! At least to back-up their claims with facts.

      James.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A very interesting post on a situation that I have often wished to address myself as a Conservation and Sustainability graduate born and raised in a city (not my choice- mind you!), my passion lies in protecting our native wildlife and I am often met with the townie line. I don’t think there needs to be an Us vs. Them mentality and yet all too often I have been called out as a “Townie” etc by people who wish to discredit my understanding based on the geographical location which so far I have lived in. Thank you for highlighting this bizarre notion!

    Kirsten

    Liked by 1 person

  5. James
    Good for tackling a sensitive issue. I’ve always sought to avoid to dissolve this divide – however understandable within a country that is one of the most urbanised in the world (89%). However, there are a number of issues that are more complex than you make out. Shooting is a hobby, running a shoot is often a business – just like birdwatching is a hobby while conservation is an industry. Money, ugly as we hate to mention it, influences and is important to both.
    A statement of yours that jumped out at me –
    ‘Now more than ever, “townies” are educated thoroughly with regards to rural issues and are easily able to form an accurate opinion following a few precise Google searches.’
    Alas, albeit ironic with the internet, I would argue that it now harder than ever to find unbiased info on controversial matters from neonics pesticides to driven grouse shooting et al. The first two pages of any search are most likely to be extreme views on the issues – especially the last two subjects I mention.
    The big one we all miss is the social science now required with communicating and framing matters that do not have answers that lie purely in natural science evidence.
    As Mencken said ‘for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong’.
    Keep going but don’t fear exploring the tough tradeoffs (what replaces neonics in dealing with pests to ensure affordable food? Who pays to maintain moorland post cessation of grouse shooting?) with more nuance!
    best
    Rob

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    • The voice of reason as ever Rob, thanks. Yes, you are of course correct when it comes to viewing issues with a little more foresight. i.e what becomes of grouse moors should DGS be banned. It is a frustrating topic, and I do not believe the growing level of tension is a result of the actions of any one side. Most likely that of extremists on both. Which is a shame and need to be curtailed with are to make any productive gains.

      James.

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