Forbidden territory: the best books about land and power | Books

Recent government proposals to criminalise aspects of trespass have forced the intertwined issues of land and power back into focus. But the question of who owns land in Britain has been bound up with wealth, inequality and exclusion for centuries.

Traveller communities are likely to be worst affected by the government’s plans, so a good place to start is Damian Le Bas’s The Stopping Places, a lyrical memoir about life on the road. Le Bas’s journey is a quest to rediscover his Romany roots, and along the way explore the challenges and prejudices facing Travellers.

Rightwing populism needs a marginalised group to blame for society’s ills, and we’ve been here before: in the 1990s, the Conservatives introduced the Criminal Justice Act to crack down on Gypsies, anti-roads protesters and raves. George McKay’s Senseless Acts of Beauty is a wonderful history of the forgotten counterculture that sparked this clampdown, from the free festivals of the 70s to the Dongas tribe who occupied Twyford Down to halt a bypass. Land, and who controls it, lay at the heart of this uprising.

The 1,000-year history of that struggle between the landowners and the landless was first spelled out in Marion Shoard’s This Land Is Our Land, a seminal work that helped inspire efforts to give the public greater access to our countryside. It can be read alongside Fay Godwin’s Our Forbidden Land, a collection of extraordinary monochrome photographs of Britain’s closed-off landscapes, from MoD sites behind barbed wire fences to grouse moors defended by gamekeepers and “keep out” signs. Godwin was president of the Ramblers’ Association, and it was thanks to her organisation that we now have a partial right to roam across 10% of England and Wales.

Protestors on the M3 at Twyford Down.

Protestors on the M3 at Twyford Down. Photograph: Tim Ockenden/PA

Much remains off-limits, however, and one of the reasons why is the prestige that comes with owning land – none more so than the sporting estate. Such pretensions are memorably skewered in Roald Dahl’s Danny the Champion of the World, in which a boy and his father poach pheasants from the local bigwig’s wood. After his father is caught in a mantrap – the epitome of the landowning gentry’s desire to exclude the great unwashed – Danny hatches a cunning plan to get his own back.

Since devolution, Scottish politics has taken a very different path to England’s – on land as on so much else. Andy Wightman’s magnum opus The Poor Had No Lawyers is an essential guide to who owns Scotland and why land reform has flowered there in recent years.

And for a bitingly witty history of the Highland clearances, take a look at John McGrath’s play The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil.

Exclusion from the land can be viewed through the prism of race as well as class. Official surveys show that BME communities are much less likely to visit the countryside than white Britons. The Forestry Commission’s appointment of Zakiya Mckenzie as a writer-in-residence is one recent nod towards trying to decolonise the countryside. Mckenzie’s poem “Writer in the Forest” explores feelings of belonging in nature: “This land that I own as every part of myself / Yet know I have no ultimate claim to contend”. It’s a philosophy that we urgently need to embrace: that the Earth does not ultimately belong to us – rather, we belong to the Earth.

Who Owns England? by Guy Shrubsole is published by William Collins (RRP £20). To order a copy go to Free UK p&p over £15.

Source link

About The Author

We are independent. we bring you the Real news from around the world.

Related posts

Leave a Reply