Alexander Chancellor

Long life | 8 September 2016

Being totally dependant on others will ruin your life, if the pigs and chickens don’t kill you first

There is no cherished assumption that now goes unchallenged. The latest one is that country air is good for you. Ronald Reagan was much mocked when he said in 1981 that ‘trees cause more pollution than automobiles do’, but scientists later surprised everyone by saying that he was at least partially right. And now it is claimed that if you live near to a pig, cow or chicken farm, you might as well be living in Oxford Street. A study conducted by Utrecht University in Holland has found that more Europeans die from air pollution in the countryside than in cities, mainly from the fumes of manure storage and slurry spreading.

Of course, this may not be true; for no such findings ever get unanimous acceptance. China and the United States, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, may even agree between themselves that they are to blame for global warming; but there are also plenty of people who declare them innocent and insist that climate change is a natural phenomenon in which humans play no part. The frustrating thing is that people are never allowed certainty. There was, for example, much complaining after the June referendum that nobody in the campaign explained what the consequences of Brexit would be; but nobody did, because nobody knew.

But back to the countryside, where I have been hoping to spend my final years. At my house in Northamptonshire I have six chickens of my own, which probably aren’t enough to do me much harm, but I also live near to a large commercial chicken farm that may well be poisoning the air. I can, of course, refuse to believe this, but there is one incontrovertible fact about the countryside that I cannot ignore; and this is that it’s not a good place to live if you can’t drive a car.

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