Geoscience Reference
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[T]he cows of this place, eating the grass of this valley, with the expertise built
up over generations…breed culture and identity which has meaning for the
people who live and work here and for those who chance upon it or make it
their destination.
This assertion was supported by the RBST survey. When asked to comment on the
general nature of rural change, as many as 18 per cent of respondents referred to
changes in livestock. Farm animals, it was felt, added 'to the general rural scene and
are important for urban dwellers and us countryfolk', and it was important to 'preserve
breeds for the enhancement of rural life' . However, many respondents bemoaned
losses in breed diversity and the replacement of 'British' cattle with continental
breeds. In these cases, respondents noted that 'the introduction of foreign breeds was
leading to the destruction of landscape' and that there had been a 'continual loss of
traditional breed types in favour of black and white cattle and white pigs, hybrid poultry
and the introduction of more continental beef stock' . These comments reveal that farm
livestock are important within the geographical imagination of the countryside, and
that interest in them extends well beyond their productive value to include their
contribution to landscape identity and biodiversity. Indeed, only 11 per cent of
respondents feel that rare livestock are important economically, and, of those who
keep rare breeds, less than a third said that they do so for their produce. Instead,
three-quarters (responses were not mutually exclusive) said that they are supporting
rare breeds to maintain 'unique sources of genes' and two-thirds to preserve 'part of
British heritage' . This contrasts starkly with suggestions that farmers are often
reluctant to engage with the ideas and practice of conservation (Carr and Tait 1991;
Morris and Potter 1995). Thus, the membership and aims of the RBST raise
interesting questions because it is a conservation organisation which draws from
both the farming and non-farming community (Evans and Yarwood 1999).
The RBST was formed in 1973 and, like many conservation charities (Thrift
1989), has experienced a surge of interest over the past twenty-five years. Charities
have been criticised because all too often an overt desire to conserve or to preserve
the countryside masks a desire to protect property prices, cultural capital and elitist
visions of the countryside (Murdoch and Marsden 1994). It is assumed that
farmers, acting as entrepreneurs, either oppose or adopt the ideas of the conservation
lobby depending on economic circumstances or class interest. Thus, they will
oppose conservationists if production is threatened, but will adopt agri-
environmental schemes if suitable compensatory payments are offered by the state
or Europe (Wilson 1996). Despite calls for greater sensitivity to 'intra-class' division
(Cloke and Thrift 1987) and a well-established behavioural tradition in agricultural
geography (Gasson 1973; Ilbery 1978, 1979), scant coverage has been given to the
role of farmers in contributing to conservation debates compared with their well-
reported propensity to engage with conserving actions on the ground (Potter 1986).
Yet, as the results of the survey show, many farmers appear to keep rare livestock for
the sake of conservation alone, even though they have no direct monetary incentive
to keep rare farm livestock or to join the RBST (although its services are of some
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