25 August 1995

Big Brother fears become reality down on the farm

By Peter Bullen

FEARS that "Big Brother is watching you" are becoming a reality on British farms.

Landowners and farmers were shocked to learn last week that the National Rivers Authority was using aircraft in two areas of England and Wales to spy on them.

At the same time English Nature confirmed it was employing private detectives to take statements from landowners and farmers suspected of damaging nature reserves on their land.

The fixed-wing planes used by the NRA took photographs in the East Midlands to identify any farms where water storage lagoons had been built and abstraction licences may not have been issued.

In the NRAs Welsh region another plane was used to spot farmers illegally abstracting water from the River Wye catchment area.

Even more sophisticated "spies in the sky" are being used by the EU to check on IACS arable area claims. Every hour or so satellites 400 miles out in space sweep across the country taking photographs which can identify every field and even which crops are being grown.

On the ground, MAFF and the Intervention Board employ a high-powered, experienced team of investigators to detect fraud.

Farmers also face on-farm checks by Health and Safety inspectors, Customs officials, state vets, police and various local authority inspectors.