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Date sent: Wed, 5 Sep 2001 19:25:43 +0100

Coming home from work was awkward tonight as the road over the Crosby fell is closed while all the sheep are gathered and slaughtered. We knew it was inevitable since there have been two or three cases of F&M found in sheep on the edges of the fell. The cull seems to have been held off a long time. But case No 2000 was on the fell again so today it's being cleared. Ann Thackeray's last stock will have gone. I heard that there were only a couple of positives among the stock on the fell, out of the 4000 out there.

The stories behind the testing visits to farms are getting weirder too; one farmer from that area told me he'd been asked whether he wanted the blood samples to show up positive or negative for F&M? Now, did he imagine it, or was there another agenda there than simple testing? was he being asked to choose a compensation package in return for giving up his sheep? or was he just being asked how he felt about the testing job? I just hope the pens the DEFRA people used today were big enough for the number of sheep gathered. Last time they gathered to cull, they miscalculated and 19 sheep suffocated before the cull got to them because they were penned so tightly. It's incompetence like that which drives you to fury.

As it happened, I had to give C*D* a lift home this evening and we went round by the vets' place to see if any results had come back about the pony's skin problem. (G* had told the vet, "It's Foot and Mouth, get it put down!" and the vet had said, if it was, it was a veterinary first.) That set us off talking about F&M - quite apart from the fact that we couldn't get home to Orton across Crosby Ravensworth Fell because the road was closed for the slaughter.

C*D* said a friend from Brough Sowerby had had his cattle slaughtered last week and told C*D* that when the job was done he had found 2 cows' tails lying in the byre. Now, when things were at their worst as far as the collection and disposal of dead animals was concerned, two odd tails lying about could easily have become detached from the stock on the farm, because they were lying a week or more before collection and began to decompose. But now that the slaughter and disposal happen almost concurrently, it's not a likely thing that there would be two tails left over when the cows had gone. C* said DEFRA are "investigating". It's not the first story I have heard of that sort. The Times ran an article on them a month or two back, and even my daughter had heard of bits being found in fields at Sleagill - but that was when the disposals were taking time, and you couldn't be sure the bits weren't simply gruesome leftovers from the farm's own herd. It is sickening to think that anyone would deliberately spread this disease. We don't hear that old-fashioned word "wicked" in its proper context any more; the kids have hi-jacked it into a synonym for "really good". It doesn't mean good, it means bad, evil. At the moment, this disease means death for the animals and distress, if nothing more, for the farmer. Spreading it by accident is bad. Spreading it deliberately is wicked.

8 September

At work yesterday, T*W* came in to discuss the Computer bus venture, which offers mobile out-in-the-villages computer courses to farmers who've done their introductory Pentalk training. He said the second level course was running well and proving effective. However, the tutors are also finding themselves in the role of counsellors to the farmers on the courses; all of whom of course have been culled-out, since this is how they qualify for the training and the six months' use of a computer. He said where some of the computer exercises mentioned DEFRA, there had been cases of the students bursting into tears at the mention of the name. They were tears of rage and frustration. "We are mopping up a lot of misery," he said.

10 Sept

We are quiet at the moment here in Cumbria. Leicestershire is holding its breath because despite being declared free of disease some 3 months ago there are 2 suspected cases reported today and awaiting confirmation or clearance.

DEFRA is being as unpredictable as ever. G* gets phone calls from farmers checking that he can move forage and bedding for them, assuming they still have stock when winter comes. Some are inside the "Penrith Spur" restricted zone, yet when they telephone DEFRA they are told it's OK they don't need a licence to move the crop. One has saved the message recorded on his answerphone, so that he has proof that he was told this, before the crop arrives. We shall see. It appears to depend on who answers the phone at DEFRA what answer you get to a question.

12 Sept

No entry yesterday: everyone is shocked about the events in New York and Washington. Even the millions of cattle and sheep deaths from F&M culls over here pale into insignificance, when seen against the thousands of dead civilians in the World Trade Centre, in the hijacked planes and in the Pentagon. Americans never had to endure a Blitz like England had; but suddenly they know that war is no longer something that happens overseas.

14 Sept Farmers Weekly:

MAFF ‘ignored virus diagnosis kit’ MILLIONS of stock could have been saved from the foot-and-mouth cull if MAFF had taken up a rapid diagnostic kit in March.

Concern over delayed sheep cash SHEEP Annual Premium (SAPS) payments to many sheep farmers, who had ewes taken into the Livestock Welfare Disposal Scheme (LWDS) before 15 May this year, have been withheld. http://www.fwi.co.uk/Live/fwi-ext.asp?site=email&fileno=24026

On another note, thinking about 11th Sept, is it wise to go on sourcing food outside of the British Isles when long distance traffic is so evidently vulnerable to hostile action? I thought we should have learnt this lesson during the last War when everyone had to "Dig for Victory" and provide our own vegetables wherever possible. We are destroying the light lambs. We can't export them right now because of foot and mouth but it could just as easily be because of lack of transport; in which case the import side would also be hit. This is crazy. Why can't the light lambs go into the British food chain? I KNOW they are good eating, having eaten many a fine tasty chop, leg, shoulder and so on which we have produced on this farm ourselves.

Hill farms are going to be hit hard by the tightening of movement restrictions from 24th Sept - this is when we normally sell the year's crop of calves and lambs to lower ground, and make the annual profit. Where are they going to go? There isn't housing enough for them on a hill farm. And the farms that were culled out and have been cleansed and disinfected are hungry for work; without stock over winter they will have nothing to build on, nothing to do. No prospect of any income all winter either. How will they cope? Can they survive mentally and financially? We know farmers are resilient; peasants throughout history always have been resigned survivors; but there may be some sad stories before F&M is beaten sufficiently for life to return to normal, if it ever does.

21 Sept

End of the first week of a new term on the Cumbria Campus. The Agricultural Student, bless his smelly socks, is just as boisterous as ever, and there are even a few more of the full time ones around than normal in spite of the hard times. However they will have a little less land to romp on from now on, as 80 hectares are going under woodland in the near future as part of the new structure post F&M, and as support, I guess, for our National School of Forestry. I expect the gamekeeping people will also be interested in the new venture as cover and habitat.

DEFRA has started licensing the haulier instead of the load of crop for movement permissions - which might make for less paperwork. Graham, having seen how things work (or don't) is asking for licences for everything, and letting the Dept. make up its own mind (such as it is) about what needs a licence and what doesn't.

The Wool Board and DEFRA appear to be getting their heads together - probably too late for this year's clip. What hasn't been clipped will be wasted by now, and the majority of the Cumbrian flock won't need clipping because it is dead. What wool has been clipped is either likely to be condemned because the stock subsequently "went down" or will be stored at present in a building that in a few weeks will be wanted for incoming cattle. Outdoor storage may not be very kind to bagged fleeces and I expect Graham will not want to load any sheet that consists of 6 feet by 4 feet by a foot thick of rain-soaked wool. I think a "wet sponge" that big would weigh quite a lot more than the usual 75 to 95 kilos! This, of course, assumes that Galashiels will accept wool coming up from "dirty" Cumbria into "clean" Scotland. Ditto Oak Mills at Bradford.

Brigadier Birtie, who was in charge of the Army logistics unit in Cumbria during the worst of the crisis, was on Any Questions tonight. When asked about vaccination as an option said he still didn't know what was best but he thought by now it was simply too late for vaccination to make much difference. And as another panel member said, everything is still too undecided for anyone to know what they ought to do for the best: scientific knowledge is divided on vaccination, DEFRA has different rules in different areas, and farmers are caught "in the offside trap" so to speak, especially on the question of moving stock.

Weather is getting colder and soon it will be clashy and people are going to want their stock indoors.

BUT Cumbria has (hush) gone quiet - no cases, for all of five days!

22 Sept

Too much to hope for: Masons at Wath Farm, Newbiggin on Lune, are posted today as a confirmed case.

W* and C* are busy muck spreading - emptying the cattle building ready to lay stock in for winter. They have borrowed a big plastic tank from us to hold disinfectant for washing off the tractor and muckspreader wheels as they travel to and fro.

Today is 7 months since the first confirmed case of F&M. 2026 cases in Britain. 890 cases in Cumbria. I drove over the fell to come home from Fell garage at Shap this afternoon, and for the first time I drove fast and didn't need to keep an eye out for wandering sheep on the open unfenced road. I have driven it carefully for so many years that I have continued to do so from habit. Today I remembered for the first time that there were no sheep there to get in front of the car. All that remains is the rutted ground where the pipeline fencing provided a holding pen for the slaughter and removal of the flock; that, and a noticeable number of rooks, crows and ravens sitting on fence posts and rocks; "Oh, sheep's off the menu then?"

23 Sept

G*T* mentioned that she had been phoned for the fourth time by DEFRA to ask to test the stock. D*T* sold his sheep at least seven years ago and has never had cattle. Official papers have been signed to this effect and the same story told on each occasion. So this time G* got mad and asked the DEFRA girl to spell the word "sheep". She replied, "S-H-E-E-P." "So," said G*, "there's no 'F' in sheep? and that's what I've got here, no effing sheep, so stop phoning up wanting to test them!"

25 Sept

Prince Charles visited Borrowdale today to see people who had had problems due to F&M; which appears to have gone down very well, one man going so far as to say he was the only "important" person who had come to talk to the people and taken any note of what had been happening in Cumbria.

The English Nature SSSI magazine reports availability of free training for farmers on restoring the grazing balance in the uplands following the clearance of sheep from so many of them.

No further cases in Cumbria today; one in Northumberland; a scare around Settle awaiting confirmation - stock slaughtered on suspicion.

However, getting fat stock to market is difficult in Cumbria since there is only one abbattoir within the county boundaries and the movement restrictions prevent stock going anywhere else; in a county this size this is ridiculous.

G*'s licence to move "forage and feedingstuff" details it being moved in a "closed" wagon, which ours isn't, and it specifically excludes silage. When challenged, the lady at DEFRA said with conviction that the licence wording was drawn up by people in London who had no idea what they were talking about in terms of moving such things. Now THAT I can believe. However, things are a bit quiet now - maybe we have already delivered all the forage and bedding needed by those farmers who are still in possession of livestock. You wonder how many of them will have any cash to pay for it; will you have to wait till a charity payment arrives before you see the colour of their money?

26 Sept

DEFRA's website hasn't been updated for 2 days and shows no new cases but the radio says Barbon has a case - something like 20 miles from the "Penrith Spur" Blue Box area. I haven't been able to find out if the farm belongs to anyone whom I know. De-tox sites have been set up on all 5 roads going into the village so it must be right in the village itself and Cookie, my mate down there who runs the Barbon Inn, will be cut off from a lot of his customers as people are being asked not to go to Barbon if they don't need to.

How the hell did F&M get to Barbon from nowhere?

27 Sept

We received three letters from DEFRA all posted on 25th. One tells us that we may have land in the area of Cumbria where footpaths are about to be reopened on 13th October. If so, I had not realised that Tebay has been relocated so far south; the map enclosed only just includes Tebay at the far north edge of the map and it's a good twenty miles from the edge of the designated area. They're mad, undoubtedly, or else they only employ geographically stupid people.

The other two letters are identical, with different signatures, detailing our Environmentally Sensitive Area payments. At least the sums of money are the same in both letters. There are forms in both which need to be returned. I am strongly tempted to fill in alternate questions on each form, sending them back with instructions to liaise with the other party for the missing data. Then perhaps the right hand and the left hand will at least know of each other's existence even if they don't know what they are doing.

29 Sept

The "case" at Wath turned out to be something else - orf; anyway the tests of the slaughtered stock came back negative for F&M.

J*H* phoned tonight, her land line having been mended - at last - though not too reliably, as we were cut off after a few minutes and had to reconnect. She said B*P* had remarked that F&M must be over because her brother who had been driving a bodywagon has just been laid off as there is no work. Modified rapture......... J* also said she had had two copies of DEFRA's footpaths map.

Cookie at the Barbon Inn said they are just waiting now to hear if the suspected case in the village does show positive test results; various autumn "shoots" eg on Barbon Manor estate may be cancelled if the results are positive. These shoots are already booked by the guns and normally bring in a substantial amount of cash that would cover the rent of the pub over the winter, so if these residential bookings are cancelled his business will be heavily affected. He also told me a tale about a farmer, whom a friend of his knows down in the Brecon Beacons (South Wales). The DEFRA vets came to blood test, and were invited in after testing to have a meal in the farmhouse. A little later his blood-test results came back positive and he was simply amused: "What a clever computer that must be!" Because the blood samples had been left in his kitchen after the DEFRA men departed, and were still there. The tests were repeated and, sadly, again came back positive; this time he just said, "Well, they would be wouldn't they? They couldn't be anything else."

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