Arguments against stubble burning are hot air

The top of Hinton Hill is a very spiritual place.

Yards away is the site of the original Hinton Ampner House, burnt down after being rendered uninhabitable by ghosts. The grassy triangle outside the East Gates is well-known for providing passers-by with a mysterious feeling of being accompanied, or a glimpse among the shrubs of a shadowy figure.

In the last few months, another troubled spirit has joined this unearthly throng: it’s my Old Man, safely interred in November in the churchyard just over the wall, but now he’s seething. He’s heard that stubble burning might be on the way back, and he might be missing out on his favourite activity.

This was a man who lost interest in farming the day they banned stubble burning. His whole farming year was dedicated to the moment he could drop a match in a field of spread barley straw, and then stand back and enjoy the show.

“Good burrrn!” he’d cry in a cod-Hampshire accent.

He knew that, apart from the entertainment value of the noise and heat – not to mention making your very own cloud on a clear blue day – the inferno was doing no end of good. It nudged wayward hedges and tree limbs back into their rightful places. It was cleaning the ground of weeds, bugs, diseases. We didn’t know what a slug pellet was in those days. Stubble burning was nature’s very own organic all-round pesticide. So who on earth could object to its reintroduction?

Well, first up would be the new locals, objecting to smuts on their Audi Q7s, and furious about having to make the au pair re-wash their best Boden pashminas. I personally believe that any measure that stops Hampshire becoming nothing more than an offshoot of Fulham has got to be a good thing, but we’ll ignore that.

Next up would be the Greenies, who normally give away their ignorance by prattling on about “carbon footprint”. A load of nonsense at the best of times, it is utterly irrelevant to stubble burning; carbon dioxide released in the burn was in the atmosphere only 12 months earlier. Real environmentalists would be thrilled to discover the drop in the consumption of agrochemicals and diesel. Yoghurt-knitting muesli-wearers don’t – or can’t – think that far.

Which brings us neatly to the politicians. They would be horrified at the implications for jobs. They no longer reach their decisions by considerations of common sense or what we farmers might call “the bleeding obvious”, although the old and wise among us would say that they never did. Anything that would harm the employment prospect of their constituents, whether they’re in the manufacture of agrochemicals or stubble rakes (the latest machinery craze – can’t see many of them selling after burning’s reintroduction) is a bad thing. And by the same reasoning, I suspect that the NFU, which takes perfectly normal, common sense-filled farmers and turns them into politicians, would also oppose any reintroduction.

I think it’s quite safe to say that, no, there will not be a reintroduction of stubble burning. We will never again hear the roar of dry barley straw going up, or see a seed-bed perfectly prepared without a drop of glyphosate or diesel, just itching for a modern min-till drill to blaze in before the soil has even cooled. So you can rest in peace, Grandpa Flindt, you’re not going to be missing anything. You had your last “good burrrn” in November.


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