This is the best time of the day to appreciate the countryside, the solitude and see nature at its best, before the working day begins.
This calm is increasingly disturbed by dog walkers who regularly voice abuse and threats when my admittedly slightly unruly whippets, enthusiastically check out their dogs’ credentials.
Unfortunately there are few fields without footpaths and an increasing number of newcomers to the area treat the farm as their municipal park. They refuse to keep to designated footpaths, leave poo bags hanging from gate posts, beer cans in ditches and even babies nappies hidden under hedges.
The new Dangerous Dogs Act which was intended to protect the public against dogs which are taught to fight and kill, and are completely out of control, which recently came into force, and is being used to threaten owners of dogs which dare so much as to bark or venture closer than about 100 yards.
Some weeks ago I had a visit from the local constabulary as someone complained that the whippets had attacked their rather large dog. I received a warning and no doubt the next time the boys in blue cross my threshold I shall be marched off to the local clink and could face a fine of up to £20,000.
This legislation has been drawn up in haste and is ill conceived. It is in danger of turning the countryside into a battle field, and make what should be considered insignificant incidents criminal offences.
I noted in the Farmers Weekly that the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN has declared 2014 the International Year of Family Farming. It is good to know that such an august international body recognises the important contribution traditional family farms make.
Tim Relf, Community and Farmlife editor said “Family farms in all their guises are the backbone of UK agriculture and make a priceless contribution to the landscapes, our economy, our villages and our diets”. He also noted, that farmers are business-focused with a high standard of education and qualifications. They are technologically literate and combine knowledge and skills that have been passed down for generations.
Tim accepted that some family farms, both big and small, are inefficient and unlikely to survive. But, there are plenty which are inspiringly robust, and what is indisputable is the scope of the contribution they make. They manage huge swathes of the countryside sensitively, and produce high-quality food, and the families who occupy them are generally at the very heart of our rural communities.
It is as he said, no accident that retailers, particularly supermarkets, are so keen to play on these traits and characteristics in their marketing.
According to a poll conducted recently by the NFU, farmers’ popularity is on the rise. Apparently 67 per cent of people surveyed think favourably of farmers, this is 7 per cent up on last year. As George Torrance recently reminded us, ‘It’s not so very long ago that farmers were perceived as a bunch of subsidy-grabbing spoilt rich brats who mistreat their animals, laid waste to the countryside and whinged on and on about how hard done by they were’!
Farmers today are more open and prepared to engage with the public. Open Farm Sunday, Countryfile and various celebrity farmers and chiefs, have attracted the public’s attention, and perhaps given visitors and viewers a better understanding and appreciation of British agriculture.
The devastating Ebola Virus has raised awareness of the increasing threat to the human race, animals and plants of all sizes. The term ‘virus’ seems to crop up weekly as reports of so far, unremarkable diseases threaten to varying degrees.
Frogs and newts are now plagued by a virus which is reported could wipe them out. This may well cheer up developers who face delays and costs while a greater crested newt is removed from a building site, but on the whole it would be a pity.
A number of plants and tree species including Oaks are under threat. England without oak trees is unthinkable.
There are reports of an “incurable” fungal grape disease in France which they fear could destroy the Nations vineyards. This disease which dates back to Roman times, has remained under control but has been detected in the Loire Valley during the summer and is spreading to other European countries and California. The only known treatment, sodium arsenite, is banned as it is carcinogenic and lifting the ban has been ruled out on health grounds.
Many French vineyard owners are already struggling to make ends meet, this disease could well be the final straw for. And now with the growth of vineyards across the South of England, we must hope this disease does not cross the channel.
Plumpton College should be congratulated for becoming part of an international project which is aiming to monitor the effects of climate change on small areas of vineyards.
Increases in temperature produce too much alcohol, and an imbalance between sugar levels and tannins. This global research project which Plumpton will play an important part, will help to address these and other problems caused by the increase in CO2 levels.
Carola Godman Irvine