Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Water update

Firstly, our son has recovered but has lost a lot of weight. He is quite a skinny little boy so did not have much excess weight to lose in the first place.

Secondly, today we received a bill for water charges concerning the farm cottage. £164.27.

Here is the tank which holds the water to three separate houses. The holding tank had just been cleaned.

This is a view of the water coming in straight from the hill.

That picture shows the area once it was 'done up'. Just out of shot and to the left were pheasant pens.... to the right was the corpse of a sheep (not one of ours) which was in an advanced state of decay and which had fallen in the burn. The burn which feeds the water supply.

This entire glen is fed by private water.

Environmental Health will sometimes offer a grant towards filtration systems so a lot of public money paying for private water which is not fit for purpose yet the bill for £164.27 has arrived today. Payable to the Estate.
We are charged £5 per annum rent for the water pipe we supplied to the cottage and which runs through our field. The pipe is a proper plastic water pipe.
We supplied a filter system to the cottage once we realised the extent of the water pollution after consulting independent water testing companies.
Sadly, it was too late for my father who lived there and who died of renal failure. Or the visitor who contracted cryptosporidium.

The estimate for a system robust enough to clean our supply has come in around £3,500 plus a recommendation that the filters are changed once a year. We find that they need changing once a month otherwise the filter becomes so clogged with solids that the flow stops.


We discovered that last winter, when we were without water for 39 days (at the temporary accommodation) that due to the total population being less than 50, we were not eligible for help or emergency water.


Thursday, 24 November 2011

Water, water everywhere...

...nor any drop to drink.

My apologies to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Samuel Taylor Coleridge but I could not think of any phrase more appropriate.

The Farmer is beginning to despair. The wet weather has made the harvest impossible to gather so the remaining crop of oats, partially harvested, now stands in a sodden isolation, a little island in a sea of waterlogged soil.
The Farmer must try to reduce the moisture content of the grain from a harvest high of around 40% to 16%. This entails cranking up the old grain dryer which is run on a combination of diesel and electric, a giant tumble drier, if you like, albeit one which is eye wateringly expensive to run. (No pun was intended there, I can assure you.)

That is, if it runs. The wretched thing broke down but given that it is only slightly younger than me, these things happen.

I cannot help The Farmer just now as I am at home with our little boy. Our son developed an alarmingly high temperature, upset stomach and vomiting which lasted two days. We are keeping him from nursery even although he is over the worst now. We do not want to risk infecting the other children.

The thing is, our little boy drank some water from the tap in the kitchen in the farmhouse at the weekend.

He did so because he was thirsty and at the age of four, is independent enough to turn on a tap and pour himself a drink. He was thirsty and it only took less than a minute.
He had not asked me to open the bottle of water beside the sink because he wanted water *immediately* with all the impatience of a thirsty four year old.

Here are the latest water test results:

These tests were taken on 1st October 2011 and show unacceptably high readings of presumptive coliforms, presumptive E coli, presumptive Enterococci and very high levels of manganese.

The water supply which feeds the farm comes from a cast iron pipe which was interred through the farm fields in 1895 or thereabouts. Forgive me if I am inaccurate by a couple of years before or after.

There was an agreement between the landowner and a large public school that the school would have access to the water supply on the condition that the farm would be given 'free' water'.

The school bifurcated the pipe and laid a new one through our fields. We asked if we could have access to their clean water and were refused so we are still fed by the decaying cast iron pipe. The one that the school rejected.....

I was led to believe that everyone had a right to clean water.

I am no scientist unless you include a Ph.D in Cleaning Up Sick. I am, however, a mother who recognises the needs of a very distressed child who has 'picked up a bug'. I also recognise that the most likely source of this 'bug' was from the kitchen tap given we were at the farm trying to dry the grain and did not leave the farm.

The water was not tested for cryptosporidium as it costs approx. £250- 350 per test. This is why Environmental Health do not test for crypto.
Ditto Legionella, too costly to test for but someone must have as we received a 'Boil water' notice in July to safeguard against Legionella. The entire community received such a notice yet, to my knowledge, no further mention was given that the issue was resolved.

Our son was very apologetic and tearful when I asked him if he had eaten or drank anything he ought not.

"I drank the water from the tap although I am not supposed to".

A four year old boy who recognises that he is forbidden from taking a drink of water when he is thirsty yet thirst overcame the forbidden.

I will remind anyone who is reading that the landowners fitted a water filter to the farmhouse tap then disconnected the electricity supply, thus rendering the system useless. The filter then shattered when the temperature inside the farmhouse kitchen fell below minus 16 last winter.

It is patently clear that this government, in Scotland, are ignoring a fundamental right to clean water. An entire community are ignored, yet, alarmingly, there are plans to build new houses which will be fed by the private water supply. (n.b. full water rates are paid to the landowner by the community).

Why is this allowed to happen in Scotland, in 2011?

One would almost believe that the rule of pheasant over peasant was being exercised despite the Abolution of Feudal Tenure Scotland circa 2000. Profit over health.

We are asking for your help.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Give us this day our daily bread.

Why do we continue to farm?

Given the hostility of the landowner, the factors, the erratic and polluted water, the wet weather which is detrimental to crop ripening, the mud, social and geographical remoteness. The absence of a wind and watertight farmhouse.

Why do we plod on amid such adversity?

Sometimes it is easier to see what you do have, what you have achieved, what you intend to aim for in the future.
You fight so that your children are spared a fight.

Regardless of religious beliefs, the land belongs to Nature and we are merely the custodians. Our job is to ensure all life is given a chance to thrive, the land is worked properly and if we do our work well, the reward is tenfold in the abundance of Nature.

It is not in our ethos to bully and kill, to exclude other people in favour of elitist 'sport'. We want to welcome people here to share in the peace and stunning scenery. We want those who do not have lots of disposable income to enjoy the countryside. It is their right too.

We are a strong family who are not afraid of work or anything life throws at us. Our family work hard and live quietly.

We fervently believe that Land Reform will happen in Scotland - it has to! Scotland can no longer bury it's head in the sand and ignore what is happening to the land or the people...it has done this for hundreds of years and the very fact that our family are still legally bound to an 'agreement' which is 120 years old is one testament to the land reform stasis which exists.
If ever a country was suffering from social constipation, it is ours. Time for the 'Ballachulish Bagpipe', Scotland. Roll over. Clear the system.

There are thousands of acres of land locked up. Much of this land is used for 'sport' for those who can afford it but to the exclusion of those who cannot.

How many people like ourselves who just want to provide for their family without being greedy? How many homeless people need a decent home? How many empty houses are there in the country, houses left to decay for Goodness knows what reason?

Our family are supposed to feel oppressed by the harassment, we are supposed to become so worn down by everything that we submit the farm and move elsewhere.

Are those responsible unaware that rather than become worn down, we are fuelled with energy to continue which is given breath and oxygen by those who lived before us? Just because we were forbidden Scottish history at school does not mean we did not learn a thing or two.
One day, I hope to see this country hit by a change so radical, the sting of a thousand 'fual' tubs will enable the most blinkered to see.

This is why we continue. It is not for the money, it is for the passion. It is not for self but for others.

"Give us our daily bread
And deliver us from Evil
But keep an eye on Article 1 of the Human Rights Act, Dude."

We will continue to do what our family have done for more than one hundred years, our children will continue and their children. D.V.

We are all Jock Tamson's bairns and equal.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Nobody mentioned eff for feudal ....

Imagine if you had a landowner who came in and took your ground. Just took it, never thought to mention it, continued to charge you rent for it, did not compensate you for it, ignored you, prevented you from accessing your land which you pay full rent. Good land. In fact, the best land.

Imagine too that in order to recompense your loss in income through crop yield becoming reduced, you want to diversify in another area but this is also 'out of bounds' and you only discovered this a few days ago, much to your gobsmackedification.
If you were successful with your plans to diversify, you would have to pay the landowner a percentage of your income. You do the work, you make the investment, landowner gets the money *if* you get his permission to diversify in the first place. I may have mentioned this before but lest we forget.
Lest we forget to doff cap.

Now imagine, and I know this is a far stretch of the imagination, but just imagine they did this *because they can*!

Imagine too, that because of an 'agreement' written in the late Nineteenth century, you and the generations who follow you are still bound to this agreement, regardless of social change, human rights or progress.

Cures for disease may have evolved, men may have been to the moon, women may get the vote and equal pay, tolerance and equality begin to surface but somewhere in a little part of the world, there is a time warp .

And here is the best bit.

Imagine the same agreement states that "yearly and free of charge five days work of any kind by one pair of horses and one man by suitable carts to the aforementioned Station (said station was closed during the Beeching cuts but what the heck)...." and you are legally bound to such a demand in 2011 !

Imagine that this is not the rule of some wayward despot in a far away country but closer to home......uncomfortably closer to home.

Just saying.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Planets and the harvest

Yesterday was one of those days whereby the weather changed it's mind hourly.

We awoke to a very hard frost, iced puddles and lace etched windows so quickly threw on layers of warm clothes and went out to see what work could be done.

Mid morning, the sun came out, The Farmer vanished only to reappear with the combine and we (the farm hands!) realised that we would we would be harvesting.

Our small convoy headed down to the field of oats, combine, tractor and trailer, me.

The sun shone on the oats and using it's special alchemy, turned each oat into tiny droplets of gold and we may as well have been harvesting gold as this crop is important to us.

We are fairly high up and saw the mist snake in from the south. It was strange to watch as it lay low ,moved quickly and bit with wet venom. The mist felt damp and diffused the sunlight to such an extent that the surroundings became quite surreal.

The combine loomed out of the mist, dramatically and if ever an orchestra was required to play Holst's 'Mars', it was then. Two wet farmhands belting out 'DAN DAN DAN DAN DARAN DAN DARAN don't quite carry out the finesse of the London Symphony Orchestra but the sentiment was there.

Eldest son left to follow the combine with the wuffler and I hung around in case anything went wrong and lifts were needed back to the farm.

The neighbouring ploughed field had been transformed by mist droplets on a myriad of cobwebs and I fancied that it now looked like the surface of a distant planet.

There is a wonderful moment after the first cut when the grain spills from the combine into the trailer. It is the result of all the work and worries that go into making a crop and we cheered as the grain began to trickle then pour into the trailer.

I left the field late afternoon and went to collect Youngest son from nursery and from the other side of the glen, the farm looked as if it had been wrapped by a smokey ribbon of mist.

The Farmer and Eldest son worked until the light began to fade and the ground became too damp. They were unable to collect all the oats (and it is raining today so we will have to wait a while before the ground firms up enough to take the weight of machinery) but at least it is a start.

Evening gifted us with an intimate embrace between lace trees and the setting sun, the damp breath of the mist lingering gently like a lover's kiss.

The big, matron Moon watched over us, smiling benignly over crops, the trees, the glen, Perthshire and the World.

It had been a wonderful day.

Monday, 7 November 2011


It would be best if I did not write too much regarding the issue of the land which has been damaged as it is now being 'dealt with'. I will update once a satisfactory resolution has been realised.

That said, I will issue a warning to anyone who may wish to wander about in the field - beware of the bull. Beware of the massive, unpredictable Limousin.
He is red, not far off a ton, sturdy, possibly slightly mental. The bovine equivalent to a brick outhouse but fast.

Talking of bull and matters bovine but not fast, I received a reply from Richard Lochhead.

It would appear that many of you who took the time to write to him also received the standard reply, one or two paragraphs appearing verbatim in the Scottish Farmer so little effort for originality there, Richard.

My concern was; What do you do if you are either unable to qualify for legal aid (eg if you fall just within the remit) but are unable to meet the massive costs of the Land Court.
A case can easily cost over £200,000 and the insurance covers £50,000 so bit of a gap inbetween.

The reply offered nothing that new - approach the various farming unions, associations or approach RSABI, a support charity dedicated to 'the relief of hardship and poverty amongst people who have depended for their livelihoods on the land'.

Rather than copy the entire letter out, here is the abridged version.

Dear GentleOtter,

Talk to the hand, mendicant.

Yours sincerely

Richard Lochhead

I would offer back the suggestion that he gets on down and dirty with the farmers at the next roup. You know, put on a pair of government issue wellies and lean on a gate with other farmers before said gate gets sold to the highest bidder.
I would have said come down to grass roots level but that is a sore point for us just now - lumps of our pasture stuck to a 4x4 somewhere else.

Talk to and spend a day working with the shepherds who have to faff around eartagging thousands of wild, horned hill sheep, usually in the rain.
Come and help attempt to dry a soaking wet pile of grain if the farmer has been lucky enough to get the crop in or stand beside the farmer who has just had his crop rejected and choose that moment to spout some spin. I dare you. I will even offer a free "risk assessment".

Mr L, spend the day with tenant farmers who are facing daily adversity with lawless landowners, those people who wish the right to buy their own farms after working them for generations, those who do not have a farm but want to rent somewhere to work the land and not be ripped off before/during/after five years and there is an *awful lot* of land out there asking to be worked and freed....

Thought not.

Aye, keep those wellies clean. They might fit someone else.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Roups and ruined pastures.

Neighbouring farmers held a farm sale today or roup as it is known.

All machinery, tools, odds and ends are sold and whilst it was a good turnout, I spoke to the lady who was the outgoing farmer about how she felt. She found it very difficult to see items which were part of her everyday life held up and scrutinised then flogged off to the highest bidder; a small collection of belongings which took a lifetime to collect, gone in two hours.

We will miss this family and miss seeing them when they were gathering hay, out lambing in all weathers, a wave from a tractor...
My father used to lend a hand on this farm (he and the farmer were cousins) and have a lovely photograph from the 1950s of dad and his sisters plus the farmer and his siblings all waving cheerfully from an old car. Dad said they had all gone out to help with the harvest and everyone looked tanned and happy, the farmer relieved that the work was done and for family celebration to begin.

It is the end of an era, another tenant farmer gone and many of us talked about how we felt.

The roup is one of those rare occasions where you meet people you have not seen for a long time, years sometimes so there is a lot of news to catch up on.
We had a few comments like "Oh my goodness, is that the baby!" to our strapping four year old and how Rosie had changed from a shy little girl to a beautiful young woman.

Now, roups at farms bring lots of cars, 4x4s, trailers and even the odd tractor and trailer. It churns the fields up something terrible and becomes a sea of mud where people try to jump out of the way of cars trying to leave the field, skidding sideways, spraying great fountains of mud everywhere.

We headed home with spares for the combine plus a huge chain and The Farmer thought he would have a quick look to check our cattle as we were passing.

We were left horrified.

While we were at the roup, a shoot had taken place in the field where the cattle were. We were given no indication that this would happen as we would have moved the cattle to a different field. Their pasture churned up by the treads of many 4x4s and ruined.

The field had all the fences completely renewed last month, new gates and posts added.

So where are the fifteen cattle which were grazing there this morning?

We will look for them first light tomorrow morning but my guess is that they have been scared off by the guns.

Would it be unreasonable to attach the big chain we bought at the roup to the gates?

To keep the cattle in, of course.....