(Very many thanks again to Adrian from warmwell for all the hard work that went into this transcript.)
www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/progs/listenagain.shtml">On Your Farm Radio 4 Sunday 14th October
Extract AH - Before all this happened, were you anti-government?
LL - No, not really. Not really, like everybody else I trusted them.
I trusted them like the farmers trusted the ministry,
like the farmers trusted the NFU.
You have to trust them to make a living but when.. the way they handled this
I wouldn't trust any of them any more.
AH = Anna Hill, reporter LL = Liz Lady Lowther
AH - Here we are on your farm and your husbands farm, of course, but we're not at a stately home here. What have you got here?
LL -15 dogs, 7 horses, 1 duck, 93 Swaledale sheep, I think its 93-94.
AH -It's a lovely old stone courtyard with a farmhouse, a substantial farmhouse but it's not a stately home. So where are we? We're on the Lowther estate are we?
LL - This is my husband's estate. We've got about 14 farms, tenanted. They've all been affected by foot & mouth, one way or another but everything round about us has gone. We've got three farmers left with animals. We've still got the sheep, the last of them left.
AH - You have actually been right in the middle haven't you? There's the Penrith Spur right in the middle of the disease. Your role in the beginning was really ..er.. you were the hub of a contact for everyone.
LL - It was rather like being a Samaritan , I think, you know just reaching out to people saying, "Look you're not on your own" that was the message. Don't be on your own. If you've got problems give me a call.
AH - And what were they saying to you, what sort of call were you getting?
LL - Tearful ones. It was sad.because there were a lot of people, who you know, their animals had been taken, their sheep had been taken, there'd been horrific killings going on. Nobody knew what it was like for them. Their farms were invaded by strangers that just killed everything, often in front of them. It was just sad, a difficult thing to put anyone through. You'd have to just be there, listen to them. I wrote to people, I got lots of letters. There was one lady I wrote to. She'd written a letter in saying she'd seen what had happened on the farms around her. Her husband was away working, she was down the Carlisle way, and she'd got to the stage where she "... might as well kill all the animals now and then myself, that's it, there's no future".
So I wrote to her and said "Come on, don't let them get you down. This is what they want, so don't let them win. They're your animals, your farm, you do it, you buckle on in there and beat it. You got to win." and that same lady wrote back and she said "Thanks, that's what I needed, I just needed that. What can I do to help you?" so from then on we started a petition for a public enquiry.
AH - It's interesting though isn't it, I mean, you're obviously quite upset about this. Did you feel you had to be strong for other people?
LL - For eight weeks I cried, I cried buckets for eight weeks, I couldn't sleep. All I could see were these horrific pictures on the TV of slaughter and death. Everywhere we went there were dead animals. They were lying in fields for weeks, they were in people's buildings, stinking villages out. You know, just to see the pain it caused everybody. It caused the farmers .... What the public don't realise is when all their animals got killed, that was their whole lives wiped out, years of breeding. When a farmer milks his cows every day, they're not just a number; he gets to know the cows and when they're dead he's got to disinfect them every day for three weeks and walk over them when they're the size of elephants.
AH - You see, a lot of people know you as someone who's very outspoken, someone who criticised the government a lot about its handling of the disease but we'll talk about that in a minute, but that anger must come from being hurt.
LL - I love animals, I always have done. I can't bear to see animals suffering but to stand there and do absolutely nothing to stop it. It's the most frustrating thing. You cannot stop them, what's happening. You can't stop them in the middle of slaughter even if they're not doing it properly, you can't stop these people. You can scream and shout at them and tell them "That's not the way to do it!" but they continue.
AH - Where did your strength come from then, to not give up?
LL - I just don't like to see anyone getting bullied. I don't like to see anyone being kicked when they're down. I like to see people stand up for themselves. These farmers and people in this area, all farmers I think, they're used to being self sufficient, getting on with their lives, private people, they don't bother anybody and then all of a sudden, a DEFRA team can have as many as 50 people on a team, pushing you around, telling you what you have to do. They're on your property.
AH - Do you think that was part of the shock? You've been living the life like many of the farmer around here, quite isolated lives really, your own local community, strength within the community, you know everyone, you know how things work, how things are done a certain way here? Something happens and people come in from outside and tell you what to do.
LL - Yes, you can't even have your neighbors there to help you, you can't have any friends, there's no one can come on your farm. You're all terrified of seeing each other, meeting each other, terrified of getting the disease or spreading the disease. You just feel is if your whole life 's under threat and this has happened to everybody I've come across, you know, that had, that's been taken out, where their animals have been taken. It hasn't happened to me personally apart from we did have to guard the sheep when the contiguous culls were going on. We sat in the field to make sure no one from DEFRA got on the land. I stopped my car many a time seeing a farmer hanging over a gate. You know, I didn't know who he is but I just stopped and got out to say "Are you all right? Is this your land? Are these you animals?" and this is before his animals are taken, I shook his hands and said if you need to call somebody, we're there. And, you know, its only a matter of weeks after, their animals got taken anyway or killed in the field.
AH - Before all this happened, were you anti-government?
LL - No, not really. Not really, like everybody else I trusted them. I trusted them like the farmers trusted the ministry, the farmers trusted the NFU. You have to trust them to make a living but when, they way they handled this I wouldn't trust any of them any more.
AH - Was there evidence that they handled it badly?
LL - Just look around you, there's nothing left, that's the evidence.
AH - Wasn't that the disease?
LL - No, no. 2% of these animals had foot and mouth. The rest were just taken, they were healthy they were on a contiguous cull.
AH - Do you think the government could have got away with killing just those that had the disease, leaving the others?
LL - If the government had followed the expert advice of people like Fred Brown who works in America, he's worked in all sorts of places.
AH - Are you pro vaccination?
LL - Yea but Fred Brown knows about the virus, he knows about the disease and this is a virus that's taken these animals. If they'd listened to the experts and if they'd followed advice from the '67 outbreak, all of the guidelines, we wouldn't have lost as many animals.
AH - You still would have lost a lot though wouldn't you?
LL - Yes we would have lost a lot but we wouldn't have lost as many.
AH - We're just going to walk out into the blustery wind here. The field, you were over wintering sheep here weren't you and you have horses here as well.
LL - Yes, there they are.
AH - Oh yes.
LL - These are Swaledales that have come down, just going in.
AH - Yea. I have to say we're sprayed with disinfectant because the threat hasn't really gone away has it?
LL - Oh no, everybody has to continue with this for a long time. You know the disinfectant baths out there are going to be there for quite a while. The children are still traumatised by the killing. They're out there playing in the evening, they see all the cattle, the sheep and the lambs and the next morning they get up, they go to school and on the school bus they see all these piles of dead animals, not even covered up and children are supposed to got to school and then learn and how can they possibly concentrate when they're all sitting there in floods of tears and then they come home and the animals are still laying dead. "Mummy, why are those animals dead and that field, why, who did it?" And then a week or so would go by and they'd eventually get picked up after they'd had to suffer the smell of them rotting. And then they've got to put up with the fires. They see the fires and the smoke and animals legs sticking up in the air. And you don't get children drawing nice pictures at school, you get them drawing bonfires with legs sticking out like children would do pictures from a war zone and those kids are still traumatized. They're absolutely amazed when they come here and see there are still sheep alive. There are two sheep, two Herdwicks down at .. two little black Herdwicks in a field with a pony and the only reason they're alive is because they're pets and this woman has managed to keep them alive, she's not had a lot of people visiting them, they've been on surveillance and they're fine, they can survive but there's not much left apart from them.
AH - Is there a grieving process?
LL - Oh yes. They're definitely going through a grieving process yes.
AH - Where are they at in that process?
LL - Well I'd think there'd be few like me that when they have to talk about it they can't help but cry ..
AH - Yes you have had tears running down your face while you've been talking, it might not sound like it.
LL - Yes well I've done a few interviews but it brings it back every time. you can't .. it's something you won't ever forget.
AH - You're angry as well, you're angry and upset.
LL - Yes I'm angry at the way people have been treated more than anything and the fact that they've got away with it, treating them this way and they've just left us in the lurch basically so I think a public enquiry would be the answer into the handling of the whole foot & mouth epidemic but the type of enquiry that this government has got planned won't bring out the truth. It's a crime when they come and kill your healthy animals and you don't want them to. It's a crime when they tell you "We're going to take your animals out" when they know there's nothing wrong with them. That's a crime ... when there's alternatives.
AH - Is a public enquiry a trial then?
LL - It would be a trial.
AH - You say that with hatred.
LL - I do, I hate this damned government, I hate what they've done to the people. There was no reason to act the way they did. Absolutely no need at all. They could have handled this much better.
AH - They might say they had no choice, they had to act quickly
LL -No, no they ??? to get away with it. Put it that way. DEFRA and the government have been the enemy to all of this.
AH - Does everyone feel the same as you do? Do you think, really?
LL -You'll get the odd field (?) farmer that wouldn't dare say boo to a goose. You'll get a few people who still live in fear of them. I mean we've lived in fear of them thinking "Oh we mustn't upset them because if we upset them and get noticed they'll come and kill our sheep. They've done it to other people because the minute you raise your head, they'll watch you and then they'll take you out! So everyone's been frightened of them, me included.
AH - After the fear comes the retribution. Is that what you want from a public enquiry?
LL - You get to the point when you don't care any more. I did. You know we got so angry with it, so upset and hurt about, by the way people were treated. People, they were as cruel to the people as they were to the animals. They didn't care about how many people they hurt or upset. It was the devastation that was caused by the sheer mishandling of the whole situation. It didn't have to be like this and they've broken peoples lives, they've broken peoples hearts. And there are a lot of people still ill. There's a lot of people run down. I've lost a stone in weight since February and I'm not dieting - just the stress. Sheila's lost weight, like I said in the beginning I cried for eight weeks when this first started, I couldn't believe what was happening, couldn't believe how they could just get away with it, how they could be so cruel to people. And then you get past that stage when you stop the tears and you start getting angry and you think, well, I'm not going to let them treat me like this, I'm not going to let them treat anybody else like that.
AH - In a grieving process though, at the end there has to be forgiveness. Is there ever going to be forgiveness?
LL - No, I'll never forgive them. Ever. I'll never forgive them for the way they've treated people. I mean if they take those sheep, they're not my sheep, but if I saw those white suits in that field, as far as I'm concerned they would have contaminated all this land, they'd poisoned it, I'd want to go, I just wouldn't want anything to do with this place again.
AH - Is that how many people feel about their farms now?
LL -Yea, I don't know really, everything's been really ... they've taken the farm down the road, everything that got killed down there, Ann won't be able to look in the cattle sheds, neither will Peter, they'll look out of the window and there's nothing there. When Chris got taken out, he had all his lambs and sheep at the back window, he could see them from the window and for months now there's been nothing. He actually asked me "Can I have some horses?" I said "Yes of course you can." "I just want something alive, something that's living and breathing, something to look at, something that eats, something to stroke." and that's how it is, there's lots of horses strung around here. Lots and lots of people have got horse that would never have taken them before. They wouldn't have bothered with them because they're grass munchers, they're useless, just to have something, to have something alive.
AH - You yourself have been, you've been galvanising people into action, you planned a march for October 20th but that's been put off now because of security reasons in the capital so are you going to have a march later on?
LL - We'll have a march, its been postponed, we've put it off to do the sensible thing for what's happening ther's loads of people want to go on this march.
AH - Its a funny thing because some people might say why do they want go on a march now, I mean its all over isn't it?
LL - No it certainly isn't over it'll be carrying on this winter and even if there's no more foot & mouth outbreaks, if its finally gone away which I don't think it has. Even if that's stopped, people still want to tell the world how badly they've been affected by foot & mouth.
AH - You are organising this partly because you're Lady Lowther now and you've become something of a figurehead for people round here. But you're someone, you married your husband only a couple of years ago, you said you were brought up in Penrith. Have you always been a sort of leader?
LL - No no no well I was born in Penrith, brought up in the countryside, have always had animals, hens and chickens and pet lambs and everything, like farm life. I feel I am part of the farming community.
AH - But do you use your title to galvanise other people into action?
LL - It's useful, sometimes it's useful. I've never been one for pushing my way forward. I've hardly ever used the title, to be honest, its not really necessary. People know me, they know me for me. It works occasionally
AH - How did you feel when you became Lady Lowther though from just being an ordinary divorced mother of two?
LL - Three.
AH - Sorry three
LL - It doesn't make any difference. It didn't make any difference at all to me because I've been with Hugh for 10 years so it didn't make any difference at all, not to me personally, I haven't changed.
AH - What about how other people saw you?
LL - I'm still Liz, I'm still Liz, everybody knows me as Liz. I don't put any airs and graces on as you can see.
AH - You're certainly down to earth, that's for sure.
LL - Well yes, what's the point in changing now? I'm past change. There's no point, people take me for me. If the title means I can help the tenants then I'll use it as will Hugh. I mean its just a name after all.
AH - But it's an important name after all because when you sign the end of a letter where you want to get something done, you know that when you use that signature its going to have more clout than if you just signed it Liz.
LL - Certainly, yes of course it does. I feel now since the foot & mouth petition went out, I started doing it months ago, that I've made thousands of new friends because all these people that telephone me and say "Can you please send me a petition form? Who am I speaking to?" I just say "This is Liz." "Oh wow it's you! Brilliant you actually rang me back." Its just nice all the new people I've met and the communication we've got. And all these people are working together, they're all working together, they're trying to help each area and the Heart of Britain Group, I'm the patron of the Heart of Britain, aims to bring the counties together because such a lot of counties have been separated and they're on their own. One county doesn't know what the other counties are doing. Like Yorkshire. We had a telephone call from a fellow in Hawes and he rang me up and he said "What happening over your end?" I said "Oh well, its pretty drastic. How are you coping." "Oh it's hell" so we got to talking about what's been happening in their area. " Can you come over?" I said "Yes, we've got to be careful," I'm not going to give any farmers a kiss you know because of the virus (laughs) er spreading on your breath. I said "Yes we'll come over". So we went over to see them to have a meeting to see how they're coping in their area. Well we'll all help each other and that's the way it's going.
AH - How long is it going to take for these wounds to die away?
LL - I would think along time It'll be quite a while. It'll be nice in spring if we can see spring lambs out there. The lady who owns the sheep, Rachel, she bought a tup and as soon as he's signed off, you know, a clean bill of health, he can come on the fields and we can have spring lambs and that's a good start. We'll see the spring lambs survive and then we'll start the season. Eric 's farm over there with sheep in, and we'll see Corruthers with some cattle, and maybe Chris Woods with his cattle and he'll have some sheep. That's a start.
AH - So when the animals come back?
LL - When the animals come back then we start again.