The Times ~ May 12th 2001

From: Earl of Dalkeith, Thornhill, Dumfriesshire

Re: Inflexible culling policy is now unjustified

Date: 12 May 2001

SIR - The welcome sunshine that has set the grass growing is cruelly exposing the emptiness of the countryside around Langholm in the south of Scotland. Compounding the current gloom is anxiety that the consensus among our farmers, which has accepted the broad thrust of the foot and mouth slaughter so far, is breaking down. We have seen at first-hand, on the Buccleuch estates, tactics that come close to moral blackmail and menace. It is deeply disturbing that, in implementing government policy, a climate of fear and doubt has set farmer against farmer, neighbour against neighbour.

Across more than 65 holdings, our farm tenants have seen well over 50,000 of their cattle and sheep slaughtered. We have done what we can to help those involved. Only as a last resort did we go alongside one tenant to the brink of court action this week to try to stop a cull.

The Scottish Executive refuses to reflect on the change of circumstances since February. For instance, there is the effect of the prolonged sunny weather on the virus, and the fact that, with lambs now at foot, the hill flocks are far less likely to be concealing infection. Above all, it seems astonishing that, nine weeks after the nearest local outbreak, the Executive should still strike at an apparently healthy flock.

Our view that no cull was necessary, as endorsed by distinguished scientists, met with prickly disdain. Pleas for blood testing and reminders of the rarity of the hefted South Country Cheviots fell on stony ground. The only compromise offered was unworkable. Worn down by the prospect of yet more uncertainty, the farmer understandably agreed to the cull.

I am saddened that the prosecution of a policy that many have supported in principle has become so robotic, so insensitive to actual experience, so deaf to alternative scientific thinking. It is not too late, in the closing stages of the outbreak, to temper this policy in order to seek to regain the consensus that will be badly needed in the battered community as the task of reconstruction begins.