Operations began at 0900 hours on a weekday morning.
A yellow digger grubbed out blackthorn and other small bushes along a half mile field boundary that backed onto a large housing estate. With the scrub removed I could erect a new stock fence to prevent my cattle and sheep from wandering into neighbours’ gardens. I could look forward to improved relations with my residential neighbours now that my livestock could be better secured.
A few days later the boundary was clear. I met up with the contractor to congratulate him on his skilful work in removing the scrub without, apparently, disturbing any of my neighbours’ often quite elaborate ornamental garden fences. We agreed that a fire that he had set up about 100 metres from the nearest house would need further stoking and discussed what other scrub needed to be removed to allow cattle and sheep better access to various corners of the field.
Back in my kitchen I enjoyed a surprise visit from my late father’s retired farm foreman. I told him about the digger operation and we were soon laughing about his recollections of scrub removal “1950s style”. He talked of how he had planted sticks of dynamite under lines of trees or hedgerows, then stood back and lit the fuse. We giggled like naughty children at his description of a beech tree that he’d launched like a rocket 50ft into the stratosphere with a particularly impressive detonation.
Our mirth was interrupted by my mobile phone. I apologised and answered it – it was the plant hire contractor. He’d had a visit from ‘Environmental Health’. My heart sank. The ‘officer’ had left a number for me to ring. I obeyed.
He had “received a complaint” about smoke nuisance caused from a fire. Washing on a nearby clothes line would have to be rewashed. Having visited the site himself, he had several additional concerns. Did I have an EA licence to burn wood on my farm? Did I have it in writing so that he could come and inspect it? There appeared to be treated timber on the fire – did I have a licence to burn that? The fire must stop. Any wood arising from the work might have to be hauled to a licensed tip and could not be burnt as it was too close to housing. In future, a light leafleting of neighbours about any future plans for scrub clearance and fires should be considered prior to commencement.
The conversation went on. I explained that I did have an EA licence for wood burning on my farm because I had applied for one in September but was not yet in possession of one for him to inspect because I had not yet received it in the post as the EA had been “inundated” with applications.
I apologised if there was any treated wood on the fire but explained that in clearing scrub from a long boundary against housing some fly tipping had inevitably occurred and this must be the explanation for why treated timber might have found its way onto the fire. I apologised for the smoke but pointed out that the prevailing wind had generally been away from the housing. We agreed to meet up on site to see if an alternative fire site could be found on the farm far enough away from housing to satisfy him but that, in the meantime, I would cease all operations.
I put the phone down and had been so absorbed and stressed by the call that I had not noticed that my tea-drinking guest had gone. My wife said he had made his excuses and left, looking rather confused and depressed.
I called the plant hire contractor, told him to cease work and go home.
Want to share your views? Have your say on our website forums.
Stephen Carr farms an 800 hectare sheep, arable and beef farm on the South Downs near Eastbourne in partnership with his wife Fizz. Part of the farm is converted to organic status and subject to a High Level Stewardship Agreement.