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A sheep farmer writes:

K and I have just returned from an evening with farming friends and others. One had been trying to sell his sheep [giving up keeping livestock] - and failing. He had contacted five farmers who had lost their sheep in the contiguous cull. None were re-stocking. He was told by a DEFRA market inspector that he should not take stock to the market again using his [sound] wooden trailer - because it had wooden floor and sides, it was "too hard to disinfect". He was glad he was approaching the end of his life. A local vet was complaining that his practice can no longer find vets prepared to work on the "large animal" side.

Back at the farm I have a letter from WWOOF; telling me that "WWOOF has received a letter from DEFRA stating that all volunteers must be paid the national minimum wage."

It comments: "It is nonsense that volunteers who do not want to be paid, who have no contracts, who come and go, who hosts can barely plan for and to whom they often give more help than they receive but are pleased to help introduce people to organic growing, etc. etc. should be paid. Also as you know, many of our hosts have gardens and self sufficiency smallholdings, allotments, etc. If this directive is implemented then it is clearly the end of WWOOF."

The National Trust provide a similar scheme, arranging for volunteers to work on National Trust properties - but they actually charge the volunteers for the privilage of helping them! I wonder if DEFRA will be contacting them with the same instruction. What of the Conservation Volunteers? Will we see the end of that organisation too? And as for those parents that help with reading schemes in Schools. Must they too be paid the minimum wage? And the helpers that sell poppy day poppies... I suppose that next time a walker asks for directions, I had better make sure I charge at minimum wage rates before volunteering any advice?

On second thoughts, it is more likely that our wonderful DEFRA will tell me I must pay the ramblers minimum wage rates to walk across the farm - and close us down for not succeeding in paying ourselves the minimum wage rates from our farm income.