Reading James Rebanks gives me hope that the farms of the present can in future be more like those of the past.
His latest book, English Pastoral, the follow-up to the hugely successful The Shepherd’s Life, tells how rural landscapes around the world have been brought close to collapse, and the age-old rhythms of work, weather, community and wild things are being lost.
He’ll be in conversation with H is for Hawk author Helen Macdonald on Saturday 7 November at The Electric Palace.
In English Pastoral, Rebanks, who is known on Twitter as @HerdyShepherd, provides us with a song of hope.
As a boy, James Rebanks’ grandfather taught him to work the land the old way. The farm in the Lake District hills, which had been worked by his family for over 600 years, was part of an ancient landscape: a patchwork of crops and meadows, of pastures grazed with livestock, and hedgerows teeming with wildlife.
By the time James inherited the farm, though, it was barely recognisable. The men and women had vanished from the fields, the old stone barns had crumbled and the skies had emptied of birds and their wind-blown song.
English Pastoral is a book about what it means to have love and pride in a place, and how, against all the odds, it may still be possible to build a new pastoral: not a utopia, but somewhere decent for us all.
Here’s a great review of English Pastoral from the Guardian today.
‘As he points out, there’s a thin line between utopianism and bullshit, and “beauty doesn’t pay the bills”,’ says reviewer Blake Morrison.
‘He’s not saying that every farm should be like his. But many farmers would benefit – and it’s estimated that there are a billion of them around the globe – by following his example.’