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"But it is not by the consolidation, or concentration of powers, but by their distribution, that good government is effected. Were not this great country already divided into states, that division must be made, that each might do for itself what concerns itself directly, and what it can so much better do than a distant authority. Every state again is divided into counties, each to take care of what lies within its local bounds; each county again into townships or wards, to manage minuter details; and every ward into farms, to be governed each by its individual proprietor.

"Were we directed from Washington when to sow, & when to reap,
we should soon want bread.

"It is by this partition of cares, descending in gradation from general to particular,
that the mass of human affairs may be best managed for the good and prosperity of all."

-- -- Thomas Jefferson

A Localist Manifesto

Many of our cultural problems are similar, whether urban or rural, but the resources are different in the rural areas. the rural populations contain the last remnant of people with a direct ancestral relation to the land as users of it, and the native sense of 'community', including the land, as the most obvious and powerful manifestation of "the environment". The rural populations are, by definition, surrounded by relatively un-populated (un-developed?)land.

In our particular rural area, and I speak now of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, latterly partially described as Stewartry District and Stewartry Area of 'Dumfries & Galloway', "they", the government, are the largest landholder (150,000 acres = 25%) in the watershed, by an order of magnitude (tenfold). If there were a way for "them" to become, in a real sense, 'us' and 'we', then we would be some way towards developing and sustaining an active, caring population of empowered stakeholders. It is unlikely that the rurality of the area would suffer.

What I am suggesting is that, for the Stewartry, and possibly also for many other localities, two essential policies be adopted, co-equal with the 'overarching policy on sustainable development', in fact as the best policy for creating the conditions for and empowering sustainable development:

1. For any publicly owned asset, the prime consideration of development policy shall be
local benefit.

2. For any publicly owned asset, development policy shall be
decided and implemented by bodies on which
local residentsconstitute a clear majority.

The above words have been chosen carefully, for if the policies are stated as ought, must, should, or in any other subjunctive form, or even will, then the effort is doomed.

Obviously, there are other local resources than those in public ownership, but in the absence of the policies above, there is very little moral high ground.

It is unwise to allow 'economics' too much or too early consideration in matters of cultural reinforcement or development, as it is too easy to get diverted from deeper truths. Nevertheless, I can see the above policies leading to relatively cheap developments in support of sustainable local economies. A major capital asset, the land, is in hand. It need not be withdrawn from agriculture, and it need not be purchased.

Nevertheless, there is need for continued long-term investment in the development of local economies involving the care and eventual utilisation of the asset. Committing the land in question to forest can be seen as starting repayments on an overdraft - the fertility which has fed us throughout our development as a species was created largely in forest soils. Sustainable forest will repay the overdraft in time, but must be established, and it will not be done by looking for short-term cash flow.

Much money, many working lives and much time will be needed. Money well spent, lives well spent, and time well spent!

Further Observations on Sustainable Rural Development

In order to increase the active involvement of local people with our local natural environment, it is necessary that we recognise a proprietary interest:

It is our common heritage, and we ignore, damage or destroy it at our peril.

Our interest, being local and potentially intimate, is not identical to that of absentee proprietors, whether individuals or agencies of 'public' ownership.

A community is the local manifestation of "the public", and as such, has a vital interest in the sustainable management of its local environment, including both public and private land.

With rare exceptions, local benefit (social, economic, amenity, environmental health...) must become the prime consideration in environmental management policy, including land use, and particularly in the case of publicly owned assets.

In the case of private land, resident owners offer the best assurance of good management practice.

The land is a source of great social & economic value, THE source, Our home! Above all, we must not allow ourselves to feel intimidated or excluded from full and active participation through lack of 'expertise.'

The management of environmental assets, including forest, is likely to be best done through the direct involvement of persons and/or communities resident in the immediate locality.

Where work is to be carried out, it is most likely to be well done by suitably qualified local workers.

The provision of local employment is a valid goal of environmental management, even when this may not be the quickest or least expensive in money terms.

Good management decisions are more important than quick or easy ones. Forests are rarely in a hurry, especially when managed under principles of sustainability.

The prime source of fertility and health in soil is forest cover. For this reason and others, it is important to restore more of Scotland's depleted native forests to renew soils depleted by millennia of overgrazing and decades of monoculture.

Ed Iglehart (15/01/99)

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