Land, landscape and me A few years ago I rescued two old photographs from my mother’s garage. The first one was taken nearly 80 years ago, back in 1936. It shows a large and formal group of men and women on a lawn in front of a stately home, obviously in their Sunday best, yet trying to look relaxed for the photographer. The occasion was the party held by Lord Clinton for the tenants on his Scottish estates to celebrate his Golden Wedding. Both my grandfathers were his tenants, and so all four of my grandparents are looking out at me, although from their positions in the photograph I’m not sure how well they knew each other at that time, fourteen years before my parents’ wedding. The second photograph is an aerial view of a farm, and from the tractors in the yard, and the building not quite built, I can tell that it was taken 36 years later, in 1972. I can be so specific because it’s the farm my father owned on the Aberdeenshire coast and where I grew up. As well as the farmhouse and the steading, I can see the fields lying at the front of the house, across which the sea mists would roll after I had gone to bed on light summer evenings. I can also see the woods at the back, where the pigeons and rooks would wake me with their morning conversations, and the Castle, former home of the heroic Laird who came out on the losing Jacobite side in 1715 and 1745, and which gave the farm its name, also providing the perfect playground for any young boy with an imagination and an interest in history. At that time, my father had just bought a second farm, which unlike the flat plateau of home, exposed me to the pleasures of hills and hidden valleys. In one generation my family had become landowners. But why am I telling you this? I’m trying to explain that I come from a family with an apparently congenital determination to be on the land. After my father died, the family farms were sold but my brothers and I have all gone out and bought others on our own. This attitude even seems to apply to my wife’s family, as my brother-in-law, with a seemingly perfectly respectable career, bought his own farm as soon as he had the opportunity. So what is it in our genes that won’t allow us to let go of our roots? Is it just the physicality of the land itself? There is something about the rich smell of the soil, especially in the Autumn that helps to make that season my favourite time of year. Or is it the feel of the soil, across its full range from rawness to well-worked friable tilth? Maybe it’s the miracle of growth - in it, on it and from it, allowing plants and animals to draw their sustenance from it? The same process whereby grass, trees and green growing crops pump millions of litres of photosynthetic products, like pure, unused oxygen, into the air? The same process which puts the wide range of tasty, high quality food on all our tables? Land has the ability to excite, restore or calm. The sight of the Howgills as we sweep northwards up the M6 means that we are nearly home. After a hot, sticky trip to London, my wife and I will leave the house to walk through our fields, checking our stock, and losing ourselves in the views over the trees up to High Cup Nick and the Pennines, uninterrupted by any sign of other humans. It’s on our land that we hear all the birds – the smaller ones which hide in the wood and hedges, and the larger ones with their very distinctive sounds, the woodpeckers, woodcock, pheasants, lapwings and curlews …….. The song of the almost invisible skylark who shares the airspace over our pastures on summer evenings with the swooping, feeding swallows. The owls at night. The sight of the hares, deer and occasional fox who watch us before loping effortlessly to safety and to finish their business, and the red squirrels who simply scamper higher in the trees and then sit and call us names.We regularly host young people from other countries at home, and we take great pride in showing them our Cumbrian landscape. No matter where they come from, the views we show them simply blow them away. Whether it's the Lake District or the Eden Valley, the Howgills or the Langdales, Lowther Castle or dry stone walls climbing up to the fells, their eyes don't know where to look first. Nothing is more permanent than land. People come and go, and make their changes on the land. We can see the effect of people everywhere, the landowners, the land managers, the farmers and the foresters. Even the visitors. Changes here and (hopefully!) improvements there. Until relatively recently, encouraged by a need to feed the country, the majority of these changes would have been to increase the usefulness, fertility or productivity of the land. And in doing so, the landscape created was simply a glorious by-product. And if this landscape was pleasing to the senses, and attracted visitors with money to spend, all well and good. But my love of the land is deeper even than this. Land is more enduring than we are, but it takes us in hand. It nurtures and sustains not only plants, wildlife and livestock, but also people and their communities. All my life, I have been dependent on the rural economy for the roof over my head and the food on my table. I am determined that there should always be the opportunity to live on, and make a living from, the land. My father was born in 1907. Six years later, his father decided that he wanted to make his living from farming, sold his merchant's business, and changed the course of my family’s story. A hundred years further on, the succeeding generations are still on the land. And whereas some families stay in the same place for generations, it so happens that mine didn’t. We’re called landowners, but do we really own the land? Isn’t it just in our stewardship for future generations? My father’s farms now provide for two other families. My brothers and I own land, but up until a few years ago it was part of some other families’ business, heritage and history. Other people lived there. But the land is always there. It has a past, a present and a future. And because it accommodates us and responds to our management, families like mine, and the communities we are a part of, have a past, a present and a future too.