WHAT WILL BE THE FUTURE OF THE DALES?
An article by Julia Horning.
In todays world of consumerism and replacability, I think we have something very special up here. We have continuity, - a deep-rooted tradition of generations of man in partnership with his animals, that together have shaped the unique environment we know as The Yorkshire Dales.
Take a good look at this beautiful landscape quickly for it is destined to never look the same again if the men from DEFRA continue to have their way. The speed at which these Contiguous Culls, advancing in the name of Foot and Mouth disease eradication are wiping out whole areas of livestock is alarming.
It has taken hundreds of years to create this wonderful balance and harmony of man and animals, working with nature to create this beautiful landscape. To suddenly take out such a major element as grazing animals from this ecosystem is going to have the most disastrous effect on everything else that is part of it.
Changes have to be gradual to allow everything time to adjust. And it will not just be the landscape that will suffer the shock. The remaining indigenous Dales Folk are mainly communities rooted in agriculture- the life, tradition and culture of the Dales will disappear along with the skills and the understanding of the seasons and the land.
The cull wagons arrive and take away the bodies of stock that represent the enterprise and investment of the lives of families for generations. Flocks hefted to hillsides as hardy as the native thymes and sedges that cling to the same hills. These flocks have evolved here and are irreplaceable.
The effects of the removal of these sheep on both man and the landscape, we have yet to find out.
Transient politicians of the day attempt to make statements of our heritage with their Millennium Domes and Heritage Centres with their fabricated fibreglass facsimiles. Dont they realise they have a living working heritage in these hills and Dales?
Who are these people that have decreed that our perfectly healthy flocks have to be culled? Do they realise the effect they are having on these families? Gone will be our communities. Our neatly manicured hills and meadows. Our Dales will be a giant lump of set aside of ragwort and thistles. Grey squirrels will take the little birds eggs, and feral cats will prey on small mammals. Wild flowers at home in hay meadows will be strangled, denied light by grass that will become lifeless matted dead tussocks. Scrub will develop as hedges seed and advance into open spaces, along with other saplings, to form in time, a hostile inpenetratable scrub.
And when they decide to bring back the farmer (if the term still exists), to try to bring some order to this wilderness, no Government training scheme will be able to turn out a work force sufficiently dogged and gritty to live and work in these hills. - For along with our native hefted flocks of which they are rapidly disposing, they are effectively getting rid of the Dalesmen that have their very hearts and lives hefted to these hills. Quiet, unassuming men with an innate reverence for life and the land. Unless you live amongst it, no one could have a clue just how hard these men work.
At the moment, The Dales are a wonderful example of a landscape that is the creation of man in partnership with his animals in a farming system that has to be the most environmentally sensitive both for the land and to the stock roaming freely and contentedly in family groups. The purity, quality and flavour of meat so produced is far superior to the meat we are destined to be offered from the large intensive farms that are on the agenda which can produce food more economically. Even now Eastern Europe, renowned for its pollution is gearing up to fill the gap created by Foot and Mouth. Pig farms of a million sows plus are gearing up to send us more cheap food imports. We want none of this, nor do we want to encourage the growth of such misery. What about our pig farmers? Watch this space. Yes that what you get in Cumbria. Mile after mile of empty fields. Cumbria has lost eighty percent of their stock. Last week-end 1,600 animals were culled. On an average day in Cumbria 2,000 animals are slaughtered. Do we hear about it? The culling and the emotional turmoil that accompanies that horrific circus have beaten them into submission. They have given up. They are communities in mourning. Communities with their guts ripped out. Rural Revival? Its going to take a lot to breath life back into those devastated people. The sad thing is the stock that is returning to the fells is coming from Scandinavia. How does that come about?
It is happening in The Brecon Beacons. They were promised blood testing and look what they got. It was predictable.
We in the Dales are to be blood tested. The whole of The Settle Rectangle await our fate
Alas, are we to be written off the agenda? It looks like we are to be disposed of. It has happened in Cumbria, in Wales and in Devon. Wherever farming is considered to be economically unviable, there has been Foot and Mouth and extensive culling. People do not know the extent of the decimation. We are just figures. But for every confirmed case of Foot and Mouth disease that hits the media, there are at least five other farming families, most with perfectly healthy stock that are being culled out. These do not show in the figures and no one seems to be aware of the extent of it or its potential effect.
School assemblies must have done a good job, because as I grew up, I was secure in the knowledge that Goodness would look after me, and no possible harm would come to me. As I grew older, I felt confident that living in Britain, in a democracy, right and truth and justice would prevail. Why is my confidence in right being done suddenly shaken? The truth about all this is hard to find out.
Why do I regard as suspicious, even scary, a camouflaged helicopter that flies low, following all the dips and contours of our pastures? - What can it be doing?
Why does it fill me with dread when I hear that MAFF as it was, has blocked booked our local Inn? Why do I find a convoy of B.T. vans in our Dale very odd?
Im afraid I shall always associate the new name, DEFRA, not here working together with the farmer to procure food, but as part of a relentless march through the countryside clearing out our stock.
-Why could France and Holland stop Foot and Mouth disease in its tracks? And yet our Government are prepared to let it run, resisting all offers of help from world authorities on Foot and Mouth? The world looks on in horror at our brutal and shambolic response.
Why do they refuse to vaccinate? They say its because we dont want to lose our Foot and Mouth free status, yet they can not have much regard for that status or for their own people- as they are importing meat from countries that vaccinate, and also from countries that have Foot and Mouth. Where is the logic in that? - Or the bio security?
Or is all this just a convenient excuse to conform to a European Directive to reduce our livestock levels particularly in sheep?
It is true that stock levels on some of these upland farms are too high, but if this is the case, could it not be done in a less brutal, callous and indiscriminate way?
For what it is costing, wouldnt it have been better to do it in a more sensitive way by consultation, planning and consent through Stewardship Schemes and E.S.A. agreements? Or the retirement scheme offered by Europe, but never taken up by our Government.
Fine dairy herds, producing milk for local communities are being culled out round here. The alternative is to buy milk in the supermarkets that has been brought all the way from France! Is this going to be the way ahead?
How can our Government justify that? What are our farmers getting for a pint? And what about the oil used to transport it here.
The French are preserving the jobs and the farms that are the fabric of their countryside. Can our Government not see that once we have disposed, of our own self sufficiency in food and our countryside has lost the vitality of a living working useful place, we will have to pay through the nose for food which generally is not produced to the same welfare standards as our own and we will have even less opportunity to do anything about it?
It seem incredible that today that in our environmentally friendly sensitive climate, here on the pure limestone pastures of The Dales, we have no better example of how food can be produced in a kindly and sympathetic way both to the land and to the animals. In such a general recognition of how we should be linking food production with sound environmental practices, how our Government can stand by and let all this be destroyed just does not add up.
I would like to see The Dales and the unique qualities of the natural produce of its family farms, given the distinction, recognition and return that they deserve.
People living in Upper Wharfedale these past few weeks will have witnessed the truly alarming speed and efficiency of the way DEFRA move into an area, kill stock, the great majority of which is perfectly healthy, pile it into wagons and take it away. Their progress seems to be unrelenting. What I want to know is all this really necessary? Surly it is time to look at a limited vaccination policy. It has been stated by eminent virologists and authorities on FMD from abroad, that to immunise would preserve our irreplaceable native upland stock; the disease would be stopped in its tracks, allowing presently grounded stock to be moved, thus avoiding the looming inevitable welfare horrors piling up before us. All footpaths could be opened, allowing the machinery of the countryside to really get into gear again.
We are not going to be able to export for a long time. We were told the tail was going to be long. How long? Meanwhile, with a limited vaccination policy, DEFRA could calmly go on testing animals and any carrier animals disposed of, working towards regaining our foot and mouth free status, and an attempt made to regain the trust and good will of the upland communities.
Our hardy Dalesbred flock have been in our family for seven generations that we know of. Next year, on the third Saturday in June we want to see our sheep back in the sheep pens competing in Buckden Gala sheep show and hear the brass band playing. Please will someone do something to halt this awful slaughter of our precious indigenous flocks that are so much a part of the order of our beautiful Dales before it is too late?
Our hearts go out to the people who have been culled and to their innocent animals.
Julia Horner. Redmire Farm, Buckden, Upper Wharfedale. mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org