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August

The comments made on this page are not the political line or official opinions of any body or organisation. I am publishing what I have seen and what has happened to my neighbours, what has been felt and what has been said. It is in the plainest sense a diary -- personal, even possibly inaccurate, but just one person's record of our hopes, fears, frustrations and confusion amid major tragedies and minor triumphs.

Date sent: Sun, 5 Aug 2001 11:47:05 +0100

RE F&M, there is still a lot happening around Shap. Two more Fell pony breeders in the last week: Henry Harrison (Sleddale) and the Wood family (Ralfland) have lost their stock. That it is in addition to the Robinsons (Orton Hall Danny's breeders), the Wales/Morton/Awde families (Lownthwaite, Church Farm), and the Potters (Greenholme). I'm sure there may be many more whom I have not seen for ages who may have lost stock in the 3km culls that happened early on. It's quiet around Greenholme and Roundthwaite. C*M* said they've got to the stage where they don't care any more -- if they get F&M they get it and that will be that. They are still taking disinfectant precautions but in a way they would welcome infection as an end to the worry (stupid but true). No stock, no more expense. They have sheep still in Lancashire which have now cost more in grazing charges than they are worth, and if the landowners send another bill then C* will sign the stock over to them because they have run out of money to pay the fees. Stories are being reported about "body parts" of infected animals being found in fields, up and down the country, and people being telephoned and offered such things. (Specifically, a Miss Preston of Pembrokeshire, S Wales, was approached to see if she'd like same for a 2000 fee; she spoke on the radio about it). It is possible that some farmers might accept, but I think if you look at the "cui bono" behind it it's likely to be the slaughter and haulage teams who would benefit most by the disease being prolonged. They have nothing to lose but this "windfall" of well paid Government work; farmers have their stock, which they often love, AND their work to lose. Who of those two groups is more likely to be callous and to have the source of infection to hand?

My neighbour J* and I went out for lunch on Wednesday -- I'm on holiday this week -- to do "other things than F&M" and cheer ourselves up. We stopped at a pub near Kendal (chosen for its distance from any F&M locality!) -- ordered our drinks, then found two old men next to us were discussing "it looks bad around Shap and Tebay" ........ we screamed. They shut up. And as a compromise we moved to another room..............


Date sent: Thu, 9 Aug 2001 22:54:45 +0100

Really stringent disinfection procedures now have to be followed within the "Penrith spur" area when taking feed onto and off farms, ditto any vehicle moving on or off farms. We are just outside the area but our wool producers are almost all within it -- those who have not lost their stock altogether. They were clear for months but many have gone in the last couple of weeks. It makes me cross, because the slaughter policy is mainly political and economic. We've read in the papers that there is an effective vaccine waiting to be used. We used to send many "light" lambs abroad to Italy and other Continental countries, and also to Russia, but those markets were tailing off (the Russian one went three or four years ago when Yeltsin was still in charge and the economy there slumped; Yugoslavia of course has not been a market for ten years.), so vaccination would not make any changes to demand there! It appears, too, that we export AND import beef (normally). If we stopped importing, we could use our own beef and not need to export, though probably we could. We buy beef from countries where F&M is widespread, like Namibia (why? God knows). I know Mrs Housewife might not be keen to buy "vaccinated meat" but if she was told as much about F&M vaccination as she is told about all the other vaccinations and feed supplements that livestock are given, she wouldn't know anything about it....... In the meantime we keep our fingers crossed. The DEFRA men (ministry of Agriculture that was, but now revamped and not including the word agriculture .... significant?) were coming to gather the Birkbeck and Roundthwaite fell land tomorrow and blood test the sheep. What good this will do I am not sure as there have been outbreaks all round the other open fell, Crosby Ravensworth, and almost every farm has been killed-out, but there are still sheep on the fell -- no-one knows why they have not been taken out too. The conditions appear to vary for every instance you come across. It's very disheartening and I'm afraid Mr Blair is much disliked around here, even if he is perceived as a good fellow overseas. But the DEFRA Ministry is disliked even more. (DEFRA is said to stand for Department for Excuses Following Rural Abdication.)


Why does Britain import meat from countries where F&M is endemic (Namibia, Argentina) ? Do British people know that if they are buying and eating such meat it must have been vaccinated against the disease? Well, if it's OK to sell it, and safe to eat, why aren't we vaccinating our OWN stock instead of slaughtering it because it's unprotected and so catches F&M? Why don't we just eat what we produce, stop importing from other countries and stop worrying so much about the export market? We vaccinate against salmonella in chickens, and pneumonia in calves; we have combined vaccines for other sheep diseases (Heptavac says it all). If there are mutating strains of influenza against which people and (cats, and even horses!) can be vaccinated, why cannot farm livestock be vaccinated against the varying strains of F&M? I'm sick of this medieval solution to a disease that isn't a danger to human health. I'm sick of political decisions, based on financial arguments, that cause such stress to farmers who have been struggling for survival for most of the previous decade.


Conversation this morning (15 August 2001) with colleagues at work re the "Tsar" who is appointed to revitalise Cumbria once F&M is under control: Lord Haskins' message seems to be that farmers are getting their last handouts from Labour with F&M compensation. If he has his way there will only be the minimum of support as dictated by the Common Agricultural Policy. Thank God I no longer farm, is all I can say. As for the other political comments earlier in the year suggesting that farmers were responsible for the spread of the disease, they are ludicrous. OK farmers can sometimes be careless, but it makes me sick to think anyone could kill off his own livestock by forcing this virulent disease on them with its barbaric solution. If anyone had a motive to throw body parts of infected animals into fields in uninfected areas, it's the people responsible for the slaughtering and disposal, whose financial benefit depends solely on the disease continuing; certainly NOT the farmers who are seeing assets, built up by generations of their families, compulsorily purchased and destroyed.


Date sent: Thu, 16 Aug 2001 20:00:00 +0100

There were bodywagons passing my window at home yesterday and I was pretty cross about the current slaughter on a nearby holding. It was based on a tiny sample of blood tests in sheep showing what even the epidemiologists thought were probably false positives for F&M. The cattle in the same field, who are far more susceptible, were in robust health -- surely a sign that there was enough leeway in their proof to blood test a second time? But they slaughtered the lot anyway.


I noted prices of meat in our local small supermarket today (17 August 2001), mainly lamb prices:

Chops £9.15 / kg
Shoulder chops £4.32 / kg
Leg £6.08 / kg
Shoulder £1.99 / kg "Half price" therefore normally £3.98 / kg.

The highest price I have heard anyone receiving for lambs was £1.60 / kg liveweight. Lambs between 25-32 kg at Longtown Mart today made 90p / kg OVERALL - prime cuts or scrag end, it's all priced the same to the farmer! (Roughly double this as cost to the buyer for deadweight, so he has paid £1.80 / kg overall.)


Farmers' Weekly:

Foot-and-mouth - the grim statistics:

1,957 UK cases confirmed
11.00 17 August ||
DEFRA reports 3,765,000 animals identified for slaughter
580,000 cattle slaughtered
3.019,000 sheep slaughtered
140,000 pigs slaughtered
2000 goats slaughtered
1000 deer slaughtered
7000 other animals slaughtered
7000 carcasses awaiting disposal | 17.00 16 August


18 August

Lord Haskins seems at pains to refute the claims made above and to dismiss them as the creation of an over imaginative sub editor. Let's hope so. He has six weeks to put some action where his mouth is!


20 August

Went into Penrith today to pay a few cheques into the bank. Met J*M* who is a member of the driving club and we stopped to pass the time of day. She lives at Ainstable and lost all her sheep (?Jacobs) in the 3km culls early on. Luckily she doesn't rely on them for a living, being a freelance writer (also a risky profession!). I asked what she was mainly writing about and she said DEFRA provided a huge amount of whinge material!

Also saw R*B* who, when I last talked to her, worked for Abrahams, the cafe above George Fisher's sports and walking gear shop in Keswick. She is now hawking books for a distributor..... the business at Keswick was dire early in the year, with turnover down 97% and Easter "disastrous". So 6 staff were made redundant, and she, being now 58, was one of them. Also, her sister C* (who lost her Aberdeen Angus herd in June) had not been off the premises since February, had double fenced 50 metres in from all her boundaries before turning the cattle out, was disinfecting everything including the money and food packaging her mother was leaving halfway down the lane after doing the shopping, and STILL two heifers caught the disease -- not in a field near the edges of the farm, but right in the middle. C* reckons it must have chartered a light aircraft .... or wildlife -- crows, foxes, badgers? But the epidemiologists had even shot a wild deer to test and its results were negative, so they were unable to make a positive statement of how F&M arrived. She'll be able to wait things out before she starts up again, if she wants to, since her husband works in the oil and gas industries, commuting between Autralia, the Philippines and Oman -- most farms that have been wiped out are not so lucky. Compensation just covers the lost stock; it takes no account of how long it may be before you can restock.

Lowther Estates are reckoned to have had 17 tenant farmers give notice after being either cleaned out or culled, and because the estate can't manage to re-let it is simply refusing to accept their notice!


Date sent: Tue, 21 Aug 2001 20:47:24 +0100

F&M went quiet, no cases anywhere yesterday or the day before, but three today in Cumbria. J*H*'s rare sheep are still OK so far (fingers crossed) but the compensation for some stock slaughtered next door on a positive blood test has her drooling, because she has earned nothing from the farm since February. Luckily she has other income -- not everyone is so fortunate.

G* would normally be taking a load of wool to Bradford each Monday at this time of year, but Bradford have only 2 hauliers working from clean areas - the rest are definitely "not wanted". Even if there were any wool to send, nobody's quite sure of the rules on collection and delivery to the mills while the disease is still brewing. So, he's just moving straw at present; and over this side of the Pennines, there's enough hay to choke you and nothing much to eat it! You can drive from Shap to Penrith and probably even further north on the A6, and there are just empty fields for miles after mile, with lots of green grass (townie heaven - all lawn and no cowpats!). I saw one herd of cows -- ONE -- as I went to Penrith this afternoon. A lot of farms look as though they are having a sale, with all the machinery lined up outside in the fields; meaning they have no stock left and the machinery is out while the buildings are disinfected.


24 August

Hexham is having another upsurge of F&M but Longtown is declared clear and stock movement restrictions are lifted. We are still moving straw from Durham into Cumbria for those who have stock to house and feed over winter. Some dairy farmers have not been able to sell calves, who are getting larger and more boisterous and eating more and crapping more ... as they do. So they need more bedding and feeding straw.

The blood tests from the stock culled up the hill next to Dyke came back with 8 more positive results, so the cull, I suppose, was justified. Rumour tells of there being 2 strains of F&M on the go, one virulent, which affects the cattle badly, another mild, which hardly has any clinical signs especially in sheep. One might say, if so, why are we panicking about that one? Apparently it's the ability of the virus to mutate which is the danger.


25 August

A letter in the local paper echoes my comments on vaccination and how much notice shoppers would have to have of it: pointing out that pulpy kidney and lamb dysentery are now dealt with by routine vaccinations and no-one marks lamb as "vaccinated" for this.


26 August

Lord Haskins on TV's Countryfile suggested that Govt subsidies should give less to big farms and more to smaller ones. Interesting in theory. I think most farmers would prefer just to get a decent cut of the market and not be undermined by cheap foreign imports.

Selling "straight to slaughter" at present is the only option up here and it's very "iffey". Once the stock is in the market, it can't be brought home if you don't like the price!

The Countryfile program went on to examine the possibility of "Eden Valley" labelling on locally produced milk, meat etc once the crisis is over; would people buy it at a higher price to provide a premium income for the local farmers? People said yes, but only after some consideration. I suspect if they had the choice to make on the supermarket shelf, they'd take the cheaper one if they thought the quality was similar. It would have to be a very deliberate choice to buy the higher priced product.


30 August

Longtown Auction is reopened to send fatstock for slaughter.

Up at D*, J*H* tells me that the stock (mixed sheep and cattle) culled next door had 8 positive results in the samples taken before slaughter. Yet the cattle showed no signs.

Radio Cumbria reported on the effects of F&M on Wasdale, a remote farming and walking area; the slump in takings at a small shop was reported as 97% in the Easter period (matches R*'s figure for when she was made redundant). Tiny businesses can't survive on 3% of their normal income!

No cases of F&M yesterday and in fact nothing since 27 August in Cumbria. Have we stopped it? Have we, please God? I went to the County Archive on Tuesday to look at Fell Pony records and just coincidentally I found that in the 19th C there were several outbreaks of F&M, some of which went on for years: 1865 to 1872 for instance. Terrifying. We can't consider ever allowing a disease like this to take hold for that long.


31 August

It's 18 years today since we moved to this farm. I remember C*K* driving by soon afterwards and asking if his family could buy our hay meadow, which I refused because it was the only flat and easily mowable bit we owned. Today they rent the whole lot, as they did before we bought it. They are wondering how to get their fat lambs to market -- do they have enough to make the journey to Preston worthwhile? Ideally a trip to a collection centre (auction mart) would be the solution; I don't know whether Kendal has yet been approved. In any case we're under a D notice here so the animals have to go direct and they can't share with any other farms, even those that are right next door.

The NFU Journal came yesterday and a letter was printed, which I quote:

On Monday we're told the future is intensive, greener and more organic, on Wednesday we're told to be hard-nosed businessmen, closer to the market and unreliant on subsidies, then on Friday we're told to be custodians of the countryside - subsidised for delivering a storybook countryside. On Sunday we're so confused about whether to be big or small, intensive or extensive, businessmen or countryside custodians that we slam the farmhouse door and curse all the pundits and policy-makers. British agriculture could be great - we all know it. But at the moment we're like a formula one car never quite getting out of the pits ........ the sad fact is that most farmers feel the government - our government - is against us. And that's a damn shame. (M. Grimmond, Somerset)

P*N* rang this morning to ask whether G* could collect his wool to go to the Wool Board at Bradford. I couldn't tell him. Bradford are walking on pins not wanting wool taken in from a D area. Many of our producers had opted last year for their clip to go to Carlisle, which then became a restricted D area itself; the Carlisle clip was redirected to Galashiels. THAT won't be popular with the Scots, although none of ours has gone anywhere yet. Getting the clip collected and de-toxed could be a major undertaking, perhaps involving licensing from DEFRA. It will need to be sorted out, if only to allow farmers to be paid for the outstanding half of last year's clip, which they don't get until they deliver this year's, or until they declare that because they have no sheep left they will not be delivering any wool this year. Producers are going to start worrying now about what to do with their wool (assuming they have any!) when they need space to house cows at the end of September. My guess is it'll go outdoors and be spoiled and written off unless we can arrange something soon.

2001: February/March | April | May | June | July | August | September | October | November | December | 2002: January