Farm Diary

November 22

The Fowey river at Golitha

It's been a good day, rather overcast but warm. I keep forgetting to take my camera when I go out in the morning. The colours of the trees are so beautiful. The beech trees in our oak woods (we were told by one 'expert' that beech trees were out of place in our woods and should be chopped down. You can imagine what we said.) are especially good, so I took Gabriel to see the beeches at Golitha Falls on Bodmin Moor. It is only a 25 minute drive away, but they had already lost most of their leaves. It was lovely walking through the leaves though. The beeches are not like those in drier parts of England. Like our oaks they are always green as their trunks and branches are covered in moss. Only the roots are grey.

We had to rush back to see to the animals (there's a lot of feeding at this time of year). I went on the quad, and Patch and Megan ran round with me to the lower fields. As it was getting darker I could see mist, like smoke as it was rising from the river in the valley. Leaving the last of the sheep, in Higher Racks, I drove down Corner Park in near darkness, only Patch's white bits showing as he raced ahead with Megan.

I'm late to bed again, as i have been having supper with a friend. I've just spoken to James, who is getting up and about to have breakfast. I'll just paste a short article that James wrote and emailed me last night.

What Price a View?

I was lucky enough recently to spend five days in Bali. (How I came to be there is a long story I shall not bore you with.) Bali has many similarities with the Westcountry: agriculture is the main activity on the island; it has produced a landscape which many want to come and enjoy; and tourism has overtaken agriculture in terms of its share of the local economy. Bali has very fertile volcanic soils and a benevolent climate which enables farmers to get three harvests of rice a year. Wherever you go there is a deep fresh green about the countryside, as there is always a rice paddy at just that stage of growth. Rice, of course, has to be grown on the level as the plant needs to stand in water at certain stages of its growth. So the land consists of a series of level plots, some extremely small: the steeper the ground, the narrower the paddy. The contours of the land are actually defined by the lines of rice terraces as they climb the slopes. Water can be heard everywhere as there is a sophisticated network of irrigation channels which ensure that each paddy receives the right amount of water at the right time. And spread across the landscape are palm trees and banana trees which provide a vertical contrast to the precisely horizontal pattern of the rice terraces.

It is a stunning sight, and essentially man-made. I was pondering this as I looked through some postcards in a small shop. My eye was drawn to a card which appeared be a shot looking down over some of these spectacular terraces, with a traditional Balinese village of timber-framed houses with thatched roofs in the background. However, the legend on the postcard proclaimed this to be a view of a luxury hotel (built right in the middle of some rice terraces), and closer inspection of the picture revealed this to be true. Each of the "houses" had its own swimming pool, something which the average Balinese farmer would certainly not be able to afford or have the time to enjoy. I then realised that I was looking at a very literal and precise dividing line, which I could trace on the postcard with my finger: the line between those who would come to enjoy the view and those who would toil to create and preserve it.

To what extent, I wondered, did the farmer who tilled the plot just outside the hotel guest's window benefit from the wealth being spent in the hotel itself? Had the hotel got him to promise, in return for some payment, to continue to exercise good husbandry in accordance with traditional methods for the foreseeable future so as to assure the hotel of a steady supply of guests? If not, suppose he decided to retire (since all his children had taken far more lucrative employment in the hotel itself) and allowed the land to revert to the Balinese equivalent of brambles and gorse? What would the hotel guests make of this?

A few miles up the road from the postcard shop I had to face a dilemma myself. We stopped to drink in for ourselves just such a view as the postcard depicted (minus the hotel). Almost immediately we were assailed by three small children, overseen by an adult in the background, who tried to sell us things we did not want for prices that seemed ridiculously low to us but were probably a small fortune to them. Did their father, I wondered, cultivate the rice terraces we were looking at? If so, was buying something from them a way to contribute to the cost of what we were admiring? We were there, on a public road, enjoying the wonderful (but man-made) spectacle laid out before us. No-one could charge us for being there. But if tourism becomes the reason for keeping the view, rather than the agriculture which put it there in the first place, some way will have to be found to "price" the view and channel a portion of that price to the person who maintains what it is that people come to see and enjoy. Otherwise the only winners will be the brambles.

James Rider
November 2001


Back to diary index.

Back to main index.