She’d put the fear of God in the litterers and the sheep worriers and the people who think that fields, woodlands, rivers, beaches and urban parks are there to be trampled upon and despoiled.
If anything, the new code is a little too polite and passive-aggressive to get through to the blatant offenders.
The mother of nine, whose adventures on the family farm in Swaledale are shared with the world through her books and the Channel 5 series, Our Yorkshire Farm, wouldn’t mince her words about taking your litter home, keeping your dog on a leash near livestock and generally behaving yourself in public.
This week, she’s already told the readers of the Radio Times that parents are to blame for a generation of ‘snowflake’ children who don’t know how to look after themselves – and by default, anyone or anything else, including the environment that surrounds them.
“All of that has gone out of the window. It’s our fault as parents,” she says. “If you put your child on a pedestal, with no sense of independence, and think you have got to entertain them the whole time, what can you expect?”
Mrs Owen knows – and I would agree – that it is sadly but a short step from allowing indulgent behaviour in the home to facilitating entitled behaviour out in the world.
As a parent, it is far easier to give in than to take a stance. A laissez-faire attitude causes fewer arguments, but you must be prepared to forever pick up after your child rather than give them the bin bag and tell them to tidy their room themselves.
What kind of example would you be setting if you took the first option? That rubbish is always someone else’s problem, and that it doesn’t matter if an environment – any environment – is spoiled and scarred?
When I was a child in the 1970s, the original ‘Countryside Code’ was drilled into me by my uncle and my grandad, both proper countrymen. They left school when they were 14, but this lack of formal education was no excuse for ignorance. The only thing they would permit to be thrown into a bush was an apple core, and only because it could provide food for the birds.
Everything else went into our pockets to be put in the dustbin on our return home. At school, we were enlisted as playground litter marshals and taught to ‘Keep Britain Tidy’ by the Wombles of Wimbledon Common, who made good use of everything they found.
When, as an adult, I visited the Blue Mountains of Australia, much of what the guide told me about respecting the natural world rang true. “Leave no trace” was his mantra.
When it came to setting an example to my own two children, I melded the three rules into part of my parenting creed. It’s not difficult or intellectually challenging. It just demands a tiny bit of thought and a discreet stash of empty carrier bags on picnics to gather the debris.
However, somewhere along the way a generation or two has been left behind.
As we take our first tentative steps out of lockdown and venture out into our glorious Yorkshire landscape, it grieves me to see the woodlands, riversides and beaches knee-deep in discarded plastic bags, cans, bottles and far more unmentionable items. Who are these people, who have such blatant disregard for others?
It’s not rocket science to take your litter home, but this casual lack of respect shows a deeper disregard for civilised life which politicians cannot afford to ignore. Every take-away carton thrown in a hedgerow is a two-fingers-up at the world, every bottle smashed on a beach a sign of resentment.
Are we to go on in this endless cycle all summer? A sunny day. Miles of detritus strewn as far as the eye can see. Well-meaning local volunteers turning out with litter pickers and bin bags to collect the mess, only for it to happen all over again the next time the sun shines.
At both national and local level, government needs to come down hard on those who leave litter, but also give serious consideration to the social ills that lie beneath this irresponsible behaviour. In this post-pandemic year, when we have shown we can pull together, what factors of alienation and disassociation are causing certain individuals to have such a sense of entitlement that they can’t – or won’t –respect the world they live in?
As the Yorkshire Shepherdess says: “What we do on the farm, hopefully, is preparation for the big world. The lessons they get here will stand them in good stead.”
We might not all live on a farm, or even in the countryside. We do, however, all share a world. Until the politicians catch up, the very least we can do, as parents, is to teach our children not to trash it.
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