Five big stories affecting rural Britain right now

Increasing litter, dirtier rivers and a fall in migrant farm labour - Countryfile Magazine reports from BBC's rural affairs committee on the issues currently affecting rural Britain

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Countryfile Magazine attends the BBC’s rural affairs committee twice a year. This is a gathering of experts from the rural world who tell assembled BBC reporters what’s happening in their sector. The experts include farmers, vets, conservationists, scientists, economists, a representative from Dartmoor National Park and a rural vicar. Here are some of the bigger stories and issues that were raised.

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1. Litter is becoming an ever-greater problem – especially flytipping

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Flytipping of rubbish on country lane near Leeds Yorkshire/Credit: Getty

One farmer attending reported a 40-45 per cent increase in littering in the past five years on his land. Kevin Bishop said that litter had doubled in the park and that dog poo bags hung on trees were an increasing problem. The reasons for this increase were widely blamed on lack of funding and clear messaging about how to dispose of waste properly due to central Government cuts to council funding. Councils’ permit schemes were also blamed for being too complicated and having a lack of people to deal with queries.

2. Drought and low crop yields

Many farms, particularly in the south-east, are suffering water shortages due to a dry winter and spring and all attribute this to climate change. This might result in a 25% reduction in crop yields in these areas this year. Two of the farmers on the committee agreed with the Soil Association that organically farmed soils with their higher levels of organic matter can retain moisture better than conventionally farmed soils.

3. Rivers are getting dirtier

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Historic stone bridge crossing River Thames at Lechlade on Thames, Gloucestershire/Credit: Getty

The Angling Trust highlighted that since 2010 the percentage of Britain’s rivers considered clean had fallen from 17% to 14% and that the UK was failing to implement EU directives. Farming is the biggest source of water pollution with slurry being washing into the rivers after rain a particular concern. The Trust also identified chicken farms as a problem, with waste getting into water courses. It called for more free advice to be given to farmers as well as technical support to prevent pollution incidents – as well as stronger regulation of existing laws.

4. Britain’s children are getting unhealthier

Since 2010 Britain has lost its position at the top of the tables on public health measures. A report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health found that the country now lags behind much of Europe on such issues a child mortality, smoking during pregnancy, child obesity and breastfeeding. It lays the blame squarely with Government cuts since 2010 that have severely reduced the number of health professionals such as health visitors and midwives.

5. Fall in migrant labour since the Brexit vote

Some farmers are reporting that since the Brexit vote last year numbers of migrants coming to work on UK farms is falling. Partly this is due to the fall in value of the pound, which makes the UK less attractive financially. Migrants are turning to Germany in particular. Those who do come are becoming more choosy and some farmers are concerned that there might not be enough workers at the critical harvest times later in the summer.

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Images: Getty