A short message tonight due to more baling - this time we are harvesting the soft rushes from our wetter ground.

Turned and dried like hay, rushes make first class bedding for the sheep flock in winter housing - much better than straw, which we would have to buy in anyway. Within living memory, most of the farms round here would have done the same; now most of the wet land has been drained and reseeded to ryegrass, while they all buy in straw by the lorry load from "up-country" with all the associated environmental costs.

Regarding the notice of an FMD meeting in Bristol on 15th September included in last night's message - we have now spoken to Wendy Vere and apparently this meeting is aimed primarily at vets. A second list of interested other people will be kept and any remaining vacancies may be offered much nearer the time. So do forward details to any vets that you know, and put your own name forward for the "waiting list" if you have a personal interest. # # #

Betty forwarded this item from Reuters:

AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - Dutch farmers are demanding that Britain reverse its long-standing opposition to vaccinations to curb a fresh outbreak of foot-and- mouth disease.

"We are very concerned about what is going on over there," Jack Luiten, spokesman for Dutch farmers' group LTO-Nederland, said on Tuesday. British officials reported five new infected sites on Monday in northeastern England, bringing to 11 the number of new cases since last Thursday.

"If they continue the way they have over the last five, six, seven months, then there's a chance that the illness will not be under control next summer," Luiten told Reuters. The highly infectious disease broke out in Britain in February, rising to endemic proportions and briefly spreading to Ireland, France and the Netherlands.

The Dutch government used selective vaccinations in hard-hit regions to curb the spread of the livestock disease, which hit the country in March. In June, the disease was declared to have been eradicated after 26 cases.

"Please go over to another policy and start a ring vaccination like we had in Holland," Luiten said, referring to a public plea his organisation is making to the UK authorities. "We are very afraid that a second strike (of the disease in the Netherlands) would be a complete disaster not only for farmers but for Dutch society as a whole," he said. The disease causes severe weight loss in cloven-hoofed animals.

The British government has resisted calls for a vaccination programme, insisting that a mass slaughter policy was the most effective means of dealing with the financially crippling disease.

The government, which has slaughtered more than 3.7 million animals, is worried that a large-scale vaccination programme would anger farmers by losing the "foot- and-mouth-free" status of British meat, which gives it access to valuable export markets. Vaccinated animals currently test positive for traces of the disease, but scientists are working on a "marker" vaccination that would distinguish vaccinated from infected animals. The European Union has retained its overall non-vaccination policy, but has allowed members to use limited vaccinations to fight the disease. ENDS

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ADVANCE NOTICE

received from Jane Barribal of Farmtalking:

THE BIG DEMO SATURDAY 20TH OCTOBER SPEAKERS CORNER, HYDE PARK TO DOWNING STREET FROM 1 PM BE THERE!

More details when we receive them.

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Restocking and the associated risk to contiguous farms is a subject close to our hearts, as you all know. Following our correspondence with Ben Bennet of DEFRA Exeter on this subject, there has been silence from that quarter.

We rang Anthony Gibson of the NFU to see what action he had taken after we had raised the subject with him at the Shebbear meeting. He had taken up the issue in meetings with DEFRA but had basically been told the policy stands, hard luck. He was less than happy with this and promised to pursue the matter further.

We have today spoken with Stella Beavan, Disease Centre Manager at Exeter, to be told that this issue had indeed been further discussed at a "stakeholder" meeting yesterday. There was considerable sympathy for our viewpoint but the conflicting requirement is of course that all of the restocked land needs to be "exposed" to livestock for disease-free status to be assured. The best comprimise that came out of this meeting was that contiguous farms should maintain at least one clear field back from the boundary.

Our reply to this was that yes, we were happy to do this BUT we require assurance in advance that this action will remove any question of slaughter being considered in the event of re-infection on the restocked premises. We also pointed out that it was DEFRA's responsibility to contain the risk within the restocked farm, not ours, and that they were quick enough to insist on barriers and bisecurity arrangements for rare breed exemptions etc. when the perceived risk lay in the other direction. Stella accepted this argument and promised to write to head office for their views. Meanwhile we have agreed to allow a ministry vet to visit our smallholding to make an assessment of the arrangements that we can take to protect our sheep from any element of risk.

Our impressions are that there is considerable sympathy locally, but "the policy" is dictated by head office in London . . . . . . .

There is a reason for our pressing ahead to secure some form of agreement on this issue. Last week we heard on the grapevine that one neighbour, whose farm adjoins our holding across the road boundary, had bought a new dairy herd and was ready to restock. We spoke to him a few days ago and he confirmed that this was the case, with the cows due to arrive in early to mid-September depending on transport arrangements.

During a long chat about FMD in general, the subject of risk to our flock was carefully raised and he replied that, if the worst happened and his new stock became infected, the ministry would probably say that it originated from our sheep! We pointed out that this was impossible as the flock had blood tested negative, but it was clear that he still regarded them with some suspicion. The nonsense put about for so long about "silent shedders" and "hidden carriers" among the sheep flock has sunk deep into folklore and is not displaced by mere scientific tests. He did agree to phone us a day or two before the new stock arrive, so that we can move our sheep back from the boundary.

From Alan & Rosie