April 2000

[Week 16 · April 17th - 23rd, 2000]


Plans are afoot to tag Britain's forty-something million sheep - and goats. New rules which come into force from September 1st 2000, make it a requirement for farmers to ear-tag or tattoo individual sheep with the animal's place of birth before they leave the farm. Failure to do so may be punishable with a fine of up to 5000.

The initiative will cost farmers well over 6½ million pounds and a further 3m plus in following years. With the currently dreadful state of farming incomes, is this another example of bureaucracy gone mad? Well perhaps not - given the success of Northern Ireland's cattle tagging regime which allows the movements of individual cattle to be traced. Current thinking is that tagging sheep will provide reassurance through traceability, should some disease or BSE-like catastrophe occur. This traceability, in turn, should help our sheep export trade to the Continent where customers want traceability.

  [Week 17 · April 24th - 30th, 2000]


Following hard on grass roots rumbles about crime in the countryside after the outcome of the Tony Martin case (and a feeling that the State has rather withdrawn its duty to protect rural communities against crime), and William Hague's call for changes to the law relating to defending yourself in your home, the Countryside Agency on Wednesday 26th April released a report into the state of Britain's rural communities and heartland.

The report highlights some pretty grim facts about Britain's rural economy and infrastructure. With total farm incomes at their lowest since the UK entered the CAP, Cornwall's rural wages are the lowest - not even reaching 300/week. Overall, the average weekly wage in England is 405. There's a greater dependency on part-time and seasonal work, and rural homlessness is increasing (figures quoted are 11.8% in 1992 rising to 14.4% in 1996).

Anyone keeping an eye on rural affairs must surely conclude that such levels of renumeration inevitably mean that low-income rural families and workers cannot afford to buy their own homes, with affluent city dwellers acquiring second homes and holiday properties in the countryside and potentially turning areas of rural Britain into mere dormitory and recreation areas.

The run down of essential services - buses, post office counters, banks, surgeries - is certainly a cause for concern for anyone living in the countryside who is not mobile (such as the elderly), and the report highlights a feeling that many people fear the towns and villages are losing their sense of community. Despite this, 50% of people say they would like to live in the countryside, while 84% profess to being concerned about what happens to it. So perhaps there is a glimmer of hope.

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