The Trainee Warden

Despite only 80% of the land in England and Wales being registered with The Land Registry, every single scrap of land in the UK is owned by someone. 1.3 million acres are owned by just 50 companies, mainly utilities companies, mining, aristocratic estates and Taylor Wimpey (one of the largest UK housebuilding firms, 14,684 acres). An additional 30 estates own 300,000 acres of England’s 550,000 acre Grouse moors.

All the available data for land ownership in England, with limited coverage of Scotland and Wales, has been investigation and displayed by Guy Shrubsole, and Anna Powell-Smith in the project Who Owns England. If you want to know more about land ownership, a handy map can be found here, with information on overseas company land ownership here and more information on right to roam and public access here. I am sure this will be of interest to more than just my English readers, but before I lose you completely, I just want to bring to your attention a couple more numbers:

Despite 50% of England being owned by less than 1% of the population: The single largest landowner in Britain is Secretary of State for the Environment/The Forestry Commission owning 2.2 million acres, with the National Trust’s 630,000 acres, National Trust for Scotland’s 192,000 acres, and RSPB’s 321,237. These charities/non-ministerial department are not without room for critique, and public access is limited, yet these are the landowners I am personally interested in.

If land is to be owned, there are a lot of questions of who should own it and how it should be managed. I’m a supporter of Riverford and my local farmers’ market, greengrocers, and community initiatives. I’m still actively learning about sustainability, food production, ecosystem services and landscape management, I have nowhere near all the answers. What I do have is an immense curiosity and love of the natural world.

That is why I have spent the greater part of the pandemic training to be an Assistant Warden. My first placement ended with the season, so now I move onto another placement and with it a new set of challenges. A year as a trainee warden. It is a privilege to be able to live and work on these beautiful reserves: picking up traditional skills, repairing access routes and managing the local inhabitants (some even have horns…).

For me, it is a very personal journey. A future for myself as I sit facing the crossroads of nostalgia for a traditional way of life that exists no longer; an imposed reality of “invisibility, marginalization and exclusion with lower life expectancy, high infant and maternal mortality rates, a higher prevalence of depression and chronic disease” (UN Special Rapporteur); or a materialistic gadje life of artificial distraction. I chose to leave, funnelled into the stream of education and work: follow the middle classes and tick the correct boxes, make something of yourself, but like all young flesh I am not without scars. There must be more to life, a compromise that takes all of our experiences and moulds it into a vision.

The countryside is not a homogeneous utopia of hay-wains: people live their lives as they do elsewhere, landowners fight over planning permission and noise pollution, rural crime, and politics. Black people are 31 times more likely to be stopped and searched.

John Constable - The Hay Wain (1821).jpg
It’s a hay-wain…

It is my home nevertheless. My family did the best they could to ensure my future wasn’t in the veg fields (you’d starve without us) and yet I return, I bring with me my education and my willingness to learn. To learn from the people who manage the land to create a better future; for myself, the environment, and the local communities I encounter.

We are an integral part of a living landscape.

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