Hinterland - 1 June 2021

In this edition of Hinterland - farm incomes fall, Prince Charles looks to the longer term, leaders frame climate change in local terms and Airbnb provides some salutary and disruptive lessons in the context of the rural housing market

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Farm incomes fall by 20% in a year due to weather, Covid and Brexit 

Farming is still important in many of our most remote communities and this story reveals the gradual unwinding of the divisive impact of Brexit and the pandemic in combination in rural places. In a story which could also be true of housing, health or a number of other themes which have put rural winners and rural losers cheek by jowl and in increasingly starker contrast it tells us:

Farm incomes dropped drastically last year, as poor weather combined with the impact of the pandemic and Brexit-related issues wiped close to a billion pounds off the UK’s farming economy and increased hardship for many small farmers.

Total income from farming, calculated annually by the government, fell from nearly £5.2bn in 2019 to just over £4.1bn in 2020, the lowest value in real terms since 2007.

The Covid-19 lockdown last spring left many farmers reeling as their core market in supplying the catering business vanished overnight. Farmers had to pour fresh milk down the drain as they struggled to refocus on supplying supermarkets.

Extreme weather also took a big toll, with heavy rain and storms early in the year preventing planting before one of the driest springs on record. The wheat harvest was down sharply, and other key crops such as potatoes suffered. Overall, there was a drop of £999m in the value of crop output, though livestock value increased by about £490m over the year.

Tom Bradshaw, vice-president of the National Farmers’ Union, said: “Volatility is something farmers are used to managing but it doesn’t make it any easier to deal with, especially when there continues to be so much uncertainty about future changes to agricultural policy, and lack of clarity over new [subsidy] schemes.”


Prince Charles: small-scale family farms must be at heart of sustainable future

Prince Charles is a deep thinker on rural issues and following directly on from the story above about farm incomes this piece provides pause for thought about the role of farming in sustaining rural communities. It tells us:

The Prince of Wales has called for small family farmers in the UK and across the world to come together in a cooperative movement using sustainable farming methods, and for their plight to be at the centre of environmental action.

Small farmers, in the UK and EU, are facing their biggest upheavals in more than a generation, with the loss of farm subsidies and new post-Brexit trade deals in the UK, and sweeping reforms to the EU’s common agricultural policy to be announced this week in Brussels.

Writing for the Guardian, Prince Charles has urged small farmers to band together to cope with the coming shocks and shift to a low-carbon economy: “There are small farms the world over which could come together in a global cooperative committed to producing food based on high environmental standards … With the skills of ethical entrepreneurs and a determination from the farmers to make it work, I would like to think it could provide a very real and hopeful future.”

Farming is undergoing a “massive transition”, and the needs of family farmers must be taken into account, the prince said.

“To me, it is essential the contribution of the small-scale family farmer is properly recognised – they must be a key part in any fair, inclusive, equitable and just transition to a sustainable future. To do this, we must ensure that Britain’s family farmers have the tools and the confidence to meet the rapid transition to regenerative farming systems that our planet demands,” he said.


Climate change: Local leaders in England demand more power

From a local government perspective, one thing the pandemic has revealed is that local action often trumps centralised planning. This story builds on that theme in the context of climate change, with the usual urban sway of many articles, but containing an important grain of rural truth, it tells us:

The UK will struggle to reach its climate change targets unless more power and money is put into local hands, say a group of metro mayors and council leaders. 

The influential figures have written to the PM calling for "further and faster" action to protect the environment. They say the pandemic has shown that local leaders can get things done.

The government said councils and mayors had "a pivotal role" in reducing carbon emissions.

Labour's Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Steve Rotherham, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool and the Conservative leaders in Hampshire and Leicestershire are among the signatories.

They say without a locally-led approach, the UK will struggle to reach its world-leading climate change targets. 

Ministers have committed to cutting carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels, and to become carbon neutral - or net zero - by 2050. 

That will involve things like switching homes and businesses to sustainable energy sources, more use of public transport, encouraging the use of electric cars and better insulating homes.


Staycation boom forces tenants out of seaside resort homes

The potentially innocuous vehicle of Airbnb features as a significant disrupter in this weeks Hinterland. In And Finally you will read how it is putting Cornwall ahead of London in the visitor stakes. Here it is a driver of a less savoury impact for those seeking long term rented accommodation in staycation hotspots. This story tells us:

The lockdown shackles are off. The great half-term getaway began with predictable traffic chaos on Friday night as Britons finally got the chance to escape to the seaside.

But some people living in the resorts are being forced to head in the opposite direction along the clogged-up roads, priced out of their homes by a coastal housing crisis that has been turbocharged by the pandemic.

Landlords in popular seaside destinations are favouring holidaymakers over long-term tenants, leading to a catastrophic shortage of homes. Cornwall currently has more than 10,290 active Airbnb listings. Yet, in comparison, the housing website Rightmove had only 62 properties available to rent across the whole county on Friday evening.

Renters in seaside towns are facing unprecedented competition, with some landlords in Cornwall, Kent and Norfolk given the choice between up to 80 prospective tenants chasing a dwindling number of properties.


Private renters in England on ‘cliff edge’ as eviction ban ends

I suspect this story will involve an important number of rural tenants and with less local property and less choice their plight may end up being amongst the most acute examples of disadvantage in this context.

Almost two million private renters fear they will be unable to find another property if they lose their home after the eviction ban is lifted, ministers are being warned.

With the ban coming to an end this week, the government is facing demands for emergency legislation to increase the permanent protection for those struggling to pay their rent as a result of the Covid pandemic. Councils are also warning of a “cliff edge” of homelessness in the months ahead unless action is taken, with a potential £2.2bn bill for the state.

Private renters are those most at risk at the end of the ban, which has been repeatedly extended amid concerns about the build-up of rent arrears during the crisis. Among private renters in England who are worried about losing their home and who are already cutting back on heating and food to pay rent, 72% are worried they will be unable to find another home in the future. The finding, from a study by homelessness charity Shelter, equates to about 1.9 million privately renting adults.


And Finally

Airbnb boss: 'Cornwall's more popular than London'

Airbnb is a fascinating phenomenon both driving and reflecting change. This article is an example of its power to drive rural economic trends. It tells us:

Airbnb was hit hard by Covid last spring, shedding a quarter of its workforce. Throughout 2020 it experienced booking levels lower than 2019.

But despite an unprecedented drop in international travel, people still booked accommodation for domestic holidays when local lockdowns eased. 

So property rental firms like Airbnb, whose revenues grew by 5% in the first quarter of 2021, were not as badly hit as airlines or package holiday operators.

However, its figures now reveal a big change in customer behaviour.

"Rural nights booked in the UK used to be a quarter of our bookings, they're now half," Mr Chesky tells the BBC. 

Cornwall is the country's most-booked summer location in 2021, a title previously held by London.

Globally, domestic bookings went up from 50% in January 2020 to 80% in 2021, according to Airbnb's newly released report, Travel & Living, May 2021.

Another long-term change is becoming evident, according to Mr Chesky. He believes people are increasingly using Airbnb for remote working opportunities, rather than just holidays. They crave a change of scene, perhaps, rather than just a short, sharp break from the nine-to-five.


About the author:
Hinterland is written for the Rural Services Network by Ivan Annibal, of rural economic practitioners Rose Regeneration.


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