2 April 1999


Walkers are not giving us respect

So Mr Blair has had his way over right to roam (News, Mar 12). He is keen to educate us but can his walkers be educated before they roam? Perhaps there should be a certificate indicating they have been trained to read maps, keep to footpaths, shut gates, keep their dogs under control, and leave the countryside as they find it whwn they arrive.

Our farm is criss-crossed with public footpaths from the days when workers used them to get to their employment, and children walked to school, so we are used to walkers. But they are getting more disrespectful of us and the farm.

During one recent weekend when the sun was shining, out they came in their hordes for a lovely walk on a lovely day. But the path is not used, instead they walk close to the house and peered through our windows. Two large dogs chased our cats, luckily the cats had a bunkhole nearby. And most offensive of all, two dogs walked through two doors into our kitchen leaving mud under the kitchen table and walked out again when we shouted. Neither a reprimand nor an apology from their owner.

How would Mr and Mrs B enjoy that while having an afternoon cup of tea?

Mary Gladden

High London Farm, Old Buckenham, Norfolk.

Wholl clear up all the mess?

How many Labour MPs are members of the Ramblers Association? Are they given free membership? If so, the right to roam is a ramblers Bill. If the association wants the right to roam so badly, why doesnt it buy farms? Is it because it wants to use land without looking after it? Who will clear the litter and repair fences and walls after the walkers? Who will compensate us for the dead livestock killed by ramblers dogs which are never on leads?

Then, theres the bikes, with and without engines, hang and para gliders which scare the life out of sheep. And what is open fell land, because most low fells are fenced off into small blocks? How can the government infringe on the title of private land without compulsory purchase? After all, it was bought as private land for us to farm without interference from others.

The government plans to turn millions of acres of private land into a public playground, and allow us the right to close it for 28 days. It is not going to get away with this. New rights of way given by farmers should be withdrawn. I will never except a right to roam, because you cannot plan your business with people walking in the middle of your fields and fells.

T W Ireland

Whinns Farm, Ennerdale.

Right to roam can work here

The questions you posed in your leader (Mar 12) about the proposed right of access to certain kinds of countryside should no longer be treated as simply rhetorical. The government arrived at its decision after an elaborate consultation exercise it is unlikely to repeat. It is time for owners and tenants to decide how, rather than whether, they would like access rights to work.

As I show in my book A Right to Roam (published by Oxford University Press on Mar 4), there are plenty of ways in which any ill-effects of access rights can be mitigated. In Sweden, where citizens enjoy the right to walk throughout the countryside, education about rights and responsibilities starts at the age of five.

Farmers here could press for similar measures not just to ensure walkers do no harm but that they actively help other countryside users. More walkers could mean more eyes and ears looking out for fires, straying stock or illegal dumping. Farmers could post a phone number which walkers could ring if they encountered anything untoward.

Owners and tenants should start working now to help build a climate of mutual respect and support between themselves and walkers in which such duties came to be taken for granted. They will not do this by continuing to deny their responsibility to accommodate reasonable demands for people seeking only to walk harmlessly in the countryside.

Marion Shoard

The Bartlett, University College London, 22 Gordon Street, London.

Open access? No chance…

The government assures us that it is not necessary to introduce legislation granting people the right to roam through the countryside and considers that voluntary agreements are the best way forward.

Although it would be hypocritical to say that I was in favour of a general right to roam, I believe there are two practical issues about which the government has made mistakes.

First, although many landowners do not object to a few locals, who they probably know, wandering over their land, does the government genuinely believe landowners will be keen to grant open access to the public? They will be selective and keep closed routes where access would be inconvenient to them.

Second, before expanding access routes, the government should introduce practical and expeditious procedures for resolving cases where access is disputed. It takes a number of years for a case to be resolved and often the party with most money wins.

Joe Scott

Foxlease, Kennel Lane, Broadwell, Moreton-in-Marsh, Glos.

EA waters down ownership

I rarely have to put pen-to-paper, but felt I must on this occasion. We have the worst floods for 65 years and the so-called Environment Agency does not claim any responsibility. But the organisation, charges us for the privilege of using water and fines for pollution. Yet what about the untold damage and pollution it has caused during the floods? Suddenly the water no longer belongs to the EA. How wonderful to be able to choose whenever it suits.

Roger Gowthorpe

Carr Farm, North Cliffe, Hotham, York.

Correct to shun GM material

David Richardson says my credibility is suspect (Letters, Mar 19). Since he last wrote in favour of genetic engineering, seven of the largest European supermarkets, including Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury, with a combined turnover of $100bn, have followed Iceland Frozen Foods in announcing that all their own-label products will be GM-free in future.

I stand by my 10-year-old opposition to the use of genetic engineering in farming. In my view, if we want secure, long-term markets for our output, UK farmers should reject GM crops, just as we rightly rejected GM milk several years ago.

Finally, David, contrary to what you wrote, 30% of our farm is going organic, and as soon as British Sugar can offer a market for organic sugar beet, I hope the rest of our arable rotation will follow.

Peter Melchett

Executive director, Greenpeace UK, Canonbury Villas, London.

GM foods need a bold stance

I disagree with your leading article (Opinion, Feb 19) in which you state that science should determine the fate of genetically modified foods. British agriculture may not be able to wait that long.

Surely GM plants are unlike drugs and other foodstuffs, which can be given the all-clear after about 10 years of tests. Unfortunately, obtaining the necessary level of scientific proof that releasing each GM variety and its subsequent improvements into the environment will not harm wildlife could take generations.

Meanwhile, bolder nations will have access to our markets with GM foodstuffs which have been shown only to have no risk to human health. The playing field may not have been level for a while but surely, half-time has to come soon?

Peter Gill

Needwood House, North Hermitage, Shrewsbury, Shropshire.

Muted response to maize change

It comes as no surprise that the response from the trade to our ideas for a fresh approach to choosing maize varieties is muted (Livestock, Jan 22). It has been advocating the same system for variety selection for the past 10 years, and seems unable to accept that time, and maize breeding, have moved on.

We are now in the situation where farmers select varieties more for how quickly the cob matures, than for the energy output or feed value of the plant.

French trials show there is no correlation between cob ripeness and the feeding value of the silage, and by growing early maturing varieties farmers will sacrifice yield.

Many farmers we have spoken to this winter seem open to our ideas. Perhaps this is because we are addressing their real concerns. First, they need to maximise milk from forage. Second, they want enough silage in the clamp to last the winter.

Farmers should not consider agronomic characteristics alone. The time has come to select on potential to produce energy value for the herd. Independent trials in Chester and Scotland last year show that our variety LG 21.85 produced the highest yields of dry matter per hectare. Because of its high energy value, it also produced the highest projected milk output of varieties on the NIAB descriptive list. At the end of the winter these are the figures that count for anyone growing maize for forage.

Peter Schofield

Maize marketing manager, Nickerson (UK), Rothwell, Market Rasen, Lincs.

If GM soya is safe, why mix?

If genetically modified soya is perfectly safe, why is it necessary to insist that it is mixed with ordinary soya?

Anne Palmer

115 Cannock Road, Westcroft, Wolverhampton.

HGCA strives to do best it can

At the Home-Grown Cereals Authority we constantly strive to demonstrate and deliver value from cereals and oilseeds levy funds. Clearly, we have failed to do this for R P Headley (Letters, Mar 19). The communication received by Mr Headley was a topic sheet, the 20th in the series, which was produced to meet farmers needs for concise and topical R&D information. These are sent free to those who request them and that Mr Headley received three copies is a clerical oversight for which I apologise. Week by week the requests come in and our mailing list has grown by 7500 in just over 18 months. A recent offer of back issues generated requests for more than 5000 copies. All this tells me that farmers and advisers value topic sheets.

Mr Headley also criticises HGCA roadshows. Their value can be measured by participation and feedback. More than 2750 delegates registered for 12 venues, of which five were oversubscribed. A survey after each event showed 96% of delegates rated the roadshow as beneficial or very beneficial. Sadly, Mr Headley falls into the 4% who only reaped minor benefit.

I have spoken with Mr Headley and accept his biggest criticism, which was not in his letter. He did not know how to find out about HGCA. We are always open to comment and request. Anyone wanting to know more, or join our mailing list for topic sheets and other information, should call 0171-520-3945, Fax 0171-520-3992 or write to me at HGCA, Caledonia House, 223 Pentonville Road, London N1 9NG.

Paul Biscoe

Chief executive, HGCA, Caledonia House, 223 Pentonville Road, London.

MAFF support for OFS is poor

The organic farming scheme was announced in April 1998 by Jack Cunningham and re-announced when farm minister Nick Brown came into office. They extracted the maximum publicity for both ministers and the government.

Nearly 12 months later, the start of the OFS has yet to be fixed. Already MAFF is trying to erode the improved payment rates for farmers claiming ESA payments on the dubious grounds that it would be double funding (News, Mar 12). To claim payments under both the old organic aid scheme and the new OFS, farmers had to be registered with a sector body. The Soil Association already stipulates in its "Standards for Organic Farming Section 4 Standards for conservation" all the environmental extras added on to the new OFS.

If the old OAS was not double funding, then neither is the new OFS. Both are bound by the same environmental and conservation standards.

If MAFF would like the public to think it is encouraging organic farming why are real commitment and cash seriously lacking?

P Bashford

Stolford Farm, Brendon Hill, Watchet, Somerset.

Take-all control record straight

The imminent introduction of the seed treatment fungicides MON65500 and fluquinconazole to control cereal take-all has been well publicised in FW. Some crops also benefit from take-all decline, a disease-suppressive phenomenon that sometimes occurs in continuous cereals.

The specific micro-organisms on roots that cause take-all decline have not been identified. Therefore the statement that MON 65500 has no effect on them (Arable, Jan 29) is incorrect. However, there is no evidence that either of the new take-all-selective treatments will interfere with this form of natural biological control. The protective phialophora fungi have some sensitivity to fluqinconazole. But as these fungi do not normally contribute to take-all decline, contrary to your statement (Arable, Mar 12) attributed to me, effects on them would not compromise take-all decline.

G L Bateman

IACR-Rothamsted, Harpenden, Herts.

Culprits: Hawks and magpies

Dr G R Potts of the Game Conservancy Trust asked (Letters, Feb 26) where corn buntings exist. As a farmer on the same farm for over 80 years, I would like to know where many breeds of farm birds have gone?

As a boy, I saw corncrakes and quail running in my fathers ripening corn. There were thousands of sparrows which could clear an acre of ripening wheat within a week. Last year, for the first time I have seen no swallows or martins flying among our cows, as they always have, and no swifts as there used to be. Farmers are blamed for skylarks and partridges disappearing, but there are few birds of any breed except magpies and sparrow hawks. Those are the culprits.

Aubrey Charman

Great House Farm, Worthing Road, Southwater, Horsham, West Sussex.

Not coursing but poaching

Your letter about hare coursing (Feb 19) gives the wrong impression; it is not hare coursing but hare poaching.

Hare coursing is a legitimate occupation with strict rules of conduct, supervised by officials and a judge and takes place only by invitation from the landowner.

Your Lincs farmer contributor should invite his local authorised coursing club to come on to his land for a few days each winter and in return they would be willing to help control the thieving Lurcher boys.

Mrs Winnie Morton

Fadmoor Green, Kirbymoorside, York.

Large animals are penalised

The National Beef Association would like the 560kg weight limit on compensation for OTM cattle to be lifted. But MAFF has said this can be done only if the impact is budget neutral and the compensation price drops by 6p-7p a live kg from 55p to 48p-49p.

As a result other farmers organisations, apart from the CLA which supports the NBAs position, will not press for change. It could be argued that it is inappropriate for them to support a system in which compensation payments for farmers with smaller animals (beef or dairy) is kept higher than it should be because those presenting larger animals are being penalised.

The injustices of the current system are clear. In liveweight terms, 800kg cows are being given up for just 38p a kg compared with 55p for those on or below the 560kg limit.

Unfairness is equally obvious at deadweight level because the owners of poor quality 560kg animals dressing out at 45% are being compensated £1.22 per dw kg while those with good quality 700kg cows dressing out at 55% receive just 80p.

However the NBA is aware that many grass roots members of other farmers organisations are also uneasy about the unfairness of the position forced on fellow farmers with heavier animals. We would like to know whether other farmers also feel unhappy about receiving enhanced compensation payments at the expense of others forced to surrender their OTM cattle for much less than the average compensation figure.

Robert Forster

NBA, The Firs, Blackmore Park Road, Malvern, Worcs.

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