Paradise Ploughed – Survival Special was shown on 09.02.1998. Presented by Dr David Bellamy, this film investigated claims that Government tax concessions to a few private landowners were threatening Britainʼs last great wilderness – The peat bogs of the Flow Country in northern Scotland. At that time 70% of the tax breaks for private forestry were financed by the taxpayer, costing them over £10 million.
Dr Bellamy met people from both sides of the argument: Conservationists who wanted an immediate end to the planting and the foresters who believed they were turning a wasteland into a valuable economic resource.
The film explored the impact of conifer planting on the lives of local people such as fishermen, ghillies and tourism, and the threat to river ecosystems and wildlife which are dependent on this habitat as one fifth of the 1,500 square miles of blanket bog was put to the plough and carpeted in forests of Sitka spruce.
Despite protestations from officials in private companies such as Fountain Forestry, that they never ploughed prime wet areas of blanket bog, footage in the film showed that this was far from true. The case for planting conifers in such an extreme climate was shown to be unlikely to deliver the quoted financial returns.
David Bellamy described the destruction of the Flow Country as an “act of total vandalism” and pleaded with the government to change the status quo.
The programme raised public awareness of the issue: In the week following transmission of Paradise Ploughed, 1,500 viewers wrote to request further information and there was extensive press coverage and discussion, including in journals such as the New Scientist.
The programme was mentioned in Hansard Tuesday 16 February 1988, in a debate on the issue of the tax breaks and forestry in the Flow Country. Of course one cannot claim there was a causal link, but tax breaks for privately owned commercial forests were scrapped by Nigel Lawson in the Budget of March 15th 1988.
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By Jason Peters