Thursday, 8 May 2014

Imposing a culture- an update.

There has been an almost overwhelming interest and response to my last blog "Imposing a culture" and from the feedback, there are a couple of issues which I feel compelled to justify.

Firstly, the entire point of the blog, (one born from sheer frustration and vulnerability), the point was to illustrate compromise and respect to others who do not wish to have a culture imposed upon them yet who are bullied into compliance.

Several people have taken great exception to my choice of diet. What are they offended by? Do they think I would hide in the bushes and flick lumps of tofu at them? Did they assume that I would scream at them to give up eating meat? Make them wear pleather shoes? If this was their thoughts then they missed the point I was trying to make; I would not *force* my choice of diet on my own family or others, it is a personal choice.
Our family spent yesterday evening at Stirling market where we were selling some cattle. The mart is a fairly basic place, the sale was huge in respect of the amount of stock being sold. Some of the cattle would go for slaughter, some for breeding some for fattening up.
Our family saw the culmination of a year's work go in five minutes. Hours spent not only feeding and caring for our cattle through the winter months but the ploughing, sowing and harvesting of the hay, straw and grain which would sustain our herd.
The money raised will keep our farm and family going for a while (not a long while as our cattle were sold near the end of the sale and most buyers had long gone home). Our hard work did not realise a great price and we feel despondent today as a result. Our cowsheds are very quiet.

This is what we do. If the issue of vegan married to a beef producer causes no arguments in our own household then I fail to see what the problem is for those who found it offensive. People eat meat and our work is in response to that demand regardless of personal dietary choices.
This vegan would be willing to teach someone who was hungry or reliant on food banks, how to skin a rabbit, gut a fish, pluck a pheasant or cook a stew from inexpensive cuts of meat.

My husband is the farmer - a proper farmer to those who doubted his credentials. He is not a hobby farmer who farms subsidies or breeds overtly expensive types of cattle, he is a bog standard, grass-roots farmer, fourth generation tenant farmer, his family have farmed this land for 124 years. I am merely the farm hand/ orrawoman* although circumstances have forced me into taking responsibility for the entire farm eg when my husband suffered a heart attack, the cattle still needed fed that morning, the fields were half ploughed and the running of the farm continued despite the absence of the 'proper farmer'.
*An Orraperson can turn their hand to anything needing done on a farm. Tasks include operating machinery, animal husbandry, farm records, entertaining farm bairns, nurse, psychologist, cook, mender of broken get the idea. It is easier to say 'tenant farmer's wife'.

To those who asked if we had even approached those who were imposing their culture upon us, I can state, yes, we tried. In fact, I am trying to think of who I have not appealed to but perhaps it is easier to list those who have responded and offered practical help.
Our M.P. has been very supportive and our communication is ongoing, fellow tenant farmers have been incredible and have offered us much more than mere solidarity. The land reform campaigners have been highly supportive in so far as they recognise injustice, oppression, feudal high handedness, rural vulnerability. They fight for us and use articulate, academic arguments, facts, figures and examples. Their energy is tireless and our gratitude and loyalty to them is unfailing.

We have received support from those who are concerned - more than concerned, worried sick- about our native wildlife; our birds, wild animals and environment. Many people recognise something insidious happening to the countryside and are prepared to try and change the existing situations suffered by ordinary people and the wildlife in the rural environment. They put hours of footwork and hard graft into their work only to see demoralising low punishments for those who  are caught killing or injuring our wildlife.

I must ask if some of the landowners who are 'giving shooting tenants permission' are even aware of what is happening on the land they own? Many landowners are non residents of this country, many of them have no direct communication with the tenants on their land.
We are never invited to estate meetings where our lives are discussed, decisions made which affect our lives, we are excluded entirely and this is not part of a democratic society which we voted for.
Would these people be prepared to live in the sort of housing we are expected to live in? Would they be prepared to show the public actual receipts on all the 'investments costing millions' they claim to be throwing at tenant farms? Are they willing to announce the amounts of subsidies they receive from the public and true estate incomes from shoots?

Historically, we have observed a decline in standards in this area which correlates to the introduction of large estate 'managers' taking over the running of these estates. Large professional companies where once there was a factor or gamekeeper who would liaise with the laird/ tenant directly. Now, you have to try to communicate with the Chief Executor of such and such and these people can be very difficult to work with when you are a tenant. No rapport.
 Personally, I have found a very high handed, aloof and snobbish type run these agencies. Personally, I have experienced a grey area when shooting tenancies/ tenant farming is involved, the line between what shooting rights are and the blurring of common sense, consideration for neighbours or downright patronising feudal actions. It is 2014 for Goodness sake!
The estates around here who do not employ these agencies appear to have a much better rapport with their tenants and estate workers. There are some decent lairds in this area who do hold the interest of their tenants close, they interact with them on a personal basis and therefore a mutual respect is realised. The tenants are not patronised but are listened to and these estates attempt to resolve issues within their means. Yes, it is old fashioned but it is the best we have to offer in 21st century Scotland and in these instances, the community help each other and help the lairds.

We are not inferiors to anyone.

 In this day and age we are equals. We have rights, laws which everyone is supposed to adhere to and we are human beings, not human cash cows to be bled dry to enhance the life of some unseen person. The fact that we pay rent for a farm, farmhouse and land does not mean others have carte blanche to diminish our lives in any way. We want to welcome the public to our farm, share our environment and perhaps generate a little income from this yet the constrains are set against us therefore there is little to offer visitors to this area who do not shoot. The imposition of an alien culture prevents us from offering so much to so many.

More than any of the above, we want to feel safe and right now, we feel very vulnerable indeed.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Imposing a culture.

I had the good fortune to receive a call from a much respected friend who follows this blog.
During the conversation, my friend remarked that certain elements of society "Had no right to impose a culture on others which has an affect on diminishing our lives".

This conversation came about as I needed to talk to a friend on how our family felt after yet another shooting incident on our farm.

On Easter Sunday, a Larsen trap was set in the middle of the field where my sheep graze. We were given no warning that this trap was to be set, no warning that a vehicle would be used across a field which will yield hay and therefore, a standing crop.
We were not given any warning that the gates would be left open, my sheep released then worried by a dog, no warning that this dog would kill poultry then enter our cattle shed where pregnant cattle are due to calf.

We had no idea who the Larsen trap belonged to as it had no identifying number. I will admit that I had no idea what a Larsen trap was although I have seen them on the hillsides in the area. On research, I find that they use a live lure, usually a Corvus, and the given the social nature of these birds, the live lure is used to catch other Corvus.
That is the theory but in practise, the Larsen trap is capable of trapping owls, raptors and other birds. These traps are supposed to be checked every 24 hours with the provision of food, water, a perch and 'shelter' for the live bird. The dead rabbits begin to stink.

I am assuming that the water supply is contained in the jam jar which the stressed bird knocked over? I could not see any water in the jar.

We were to discover that the only law broken was an absence of a number on this cage, not sheep worrying, death of stock, abandonment of an injured dog, leaving gates open....this is, and I quote Police Scotland, not a criminal act as the person has the landowner's permission".

Really? This appears to be from a law that I cannot find any reference to on the internet. My guess is that the person who owns the land has no idea this is going on, I would even go as far to hazard a guess that if they did, they would not be greatly impressed.
I personally find these traps hugely offensive and cruel.

Have we received an apology? No.
Has our stock been replaced? No.
What followed was a fair bit of shooting (on Easter Sunday) then some 'lamping'* in our field, again without warning, shooting continuing in the dark.

* This definition by Wikipedia: Spotlighting or lamping (also jacklighting[1]) is a method of hunting nocturnal animals using off-road vehicles and high-powered lights, spotlights, lamps orflashlights, that makes special use of the eyeshine revealed by many animal species. A further important aspect is that many animals (e.g. foxes and rabbits) often remain to continually stare at the light and do not appear to see the light as a threat as they normally would view a human. It is possible to carefully approach animals on foot to a short distance if the bright light is continuously maintained on the animal to greatly improve chances of successful killing. Spotlighting may also be used as a method of surveying nocturnal fauna. Repeated, frequent spotlighting may have a detrimental effect on animals and is discouraged.
We received a high handed reply from the person whom I assume has accepted responsibility. The reply contained a reminder that they were acting in accordance with the agreement they had with the owner of the estate, in other words, they had shooting rights on our farm.
I cannot find the rule which states this gives them an arrogant, inhuman right to make people's lives miserable, in fact, I feel there is a whiff of the feudal about this 'shooting right' which smells worse than the rotting rabbits in the Larsen trap.

This brings me back to my friend's comment; "What right do these people have to impose their culture upon others to the detriment of people's lives?".
Our family do not shoot, we do not keep guns on our farm, we are in the industry which creates life, food for others, we sow and harvest crops. We assist cattle to deliver their calves safely so that one day, the meat will feed others.

I personally have chosen to stick to a plant based diet for almost forty years with a choice to include dairy products during my pregnancies. That is my own personal choice, one which I would not impose even on my family. I am happy to cook meat, fish and poultry for them as that is their choice of food. I can gut a fish, rabbit or even assist in butchering up a cow, pig or sheep as my father taught me to do when I was young. The fact I can do this does not mean I personally have to eat this meat.

Our family manage to find a compromise where vegan lives with beef producer. I am realistic and respect my husband's ability to produce good cattle, he in turn respects my refusal to eat meat.

We are fortunate that we have a choice on what we eat - so many do not and have to rely on food banks or diets low in fresh produce through no fault of their own.
How many pheasants from shoots are handed in to food banks? How many rabbits, how much venison or heavily subsidised Wagyu beef steaks are donated to those who cannot afford the £198 per kilo this meat costs to buy in Harrods?
How many pheasants are dumped after a shoot only to attract Corvus thus the Larsen trap cycle begins ad nausea?

I might add that the rogue dog who killed our poultry has denied my children a few dinners? Perhaps that breed of hen was for table use as well as an egg provision for my family, neighbours and friends.

This culture of shooting being imposed upon us has a detrimental affect not only on our quality of life but our income. We are unable to rent out our farm cottage due to issues that tenants have experienced from shoots, shooting parties, noise pollution, aggressive behaviour from some individuals who carry a gun?
Damage to standing crops by 4x4s, pheasant damage and the noise. Oh God, the noise.
Who would come here for a quiet holiday in stunning countryside when the peace is shattered by shooting? Why is this activity acceptable here yet would be unthinkable in an urban setting?
My friend pointed out that it would be offensive if someone urinated beside your house, they would be arrested if they defecated beside your house yet some are allowed to kill beside your house, in view of children.

This is not our culture.

When did it become acceptable to foist another culture from a tiny minority to the majority ie most of us do not partake in the shooting culture- most of us either cannot afford to or have more common sense not to. I am sure that the thousands of acres of grouse moor land could be put to a wider public benefit by ploughing them up and sowing crops - the lands here showing ancient signs of having been productive for thousands of years. Ecology, proper ecology and not gamekeeper 'conservation' can easily live beside agriculture if carefully thought out. The Ancients managed it!
Nature would sort itself out if given a respite from the release of millions of game birds. The raptors would flourish, given a chance.

The incident which took place on Easter Sunday has much wider social and ethical implications - one man controls several thousand acres of land yet contributes little if anything to the plates of the hungry, contributes little to the community economy, prevents diversification in tourist accommodation due to noise nuisance, fear and alarm. It could be understood by some that these shoots can have a detrimental affect on the actual population of an area - certainly here, the population is in decline, industry non existent, school role threatening to drop to single figures next term.
This area once had seventy farms. The same area now has less than ten.
This area was rich in agriculture, the three schools had a role of a total 300 pupils, there were five hostelries, three churches, plus a much greater population than today.
Some of the old farms have been amalgamated into a single 'unit' - run in partnership between an estate and a farmer on a very short contract. Great for subsidies, not so great for anything else and certainly terrible for the other sixty nine families these farms once provided for. If the old farms were still running today, the population here could be increased by a potential 280 (if each family had 2 children). The moors which now lie empty once grew oats, barley and potatoes. It is beautifully fertile ground.

The reason the farms became empty here was a refusal by the farmers and their families to adopt the laird's religion. Their own church was closed to them by the laird, a new church built by the laird and those who did not comply with this alien religion were evicted or 'opted' to leave for Canada.

Imposition of a culture having a detrimental affect on people's lives.

I feel we are seeing Clearance by shotgun. Clearance by fear, stress and control. Clearance by subsidy. Clearance by the imposition of a culture.

It is apparent in the wildlife, the most common bird being the large pheasant rather than the robin or blackbird. How much feed does a pheasant need in comparison to a small robin? Are our garden birds being deprived of feed by some of the 50 million pheasants* reared and released in this country?
Our own crops, silage and grain stores are decimated by hundreds of pheasants each year and going by our archaic tenancy agreement, we are forbidden from shooting and eating a single one.(Not that we would).
*Google the figures.

A recent poll in the Scottish Farmer asked if any of us believed the amazing facts and figures ejaculating from the Scottish Land and Estates stating how much money they had invested in tenant farms (millions!), THE ECONOMIC CONTRIBUTION OF LANDOWNERS IN SCOTLAND screamed the grandiose release. Gazillions of pounds were being made on these shooting estates.

The quiet reply came from those weary farmers who actually have to live and work with shooting tenants tramping roughshod over their fields and farms, tumbledown farmhouses. Shoots climbing over broken fences onto land which has not seen landowners 'investments' for generations.

100% did not believe the findings.

Listen to the quiet voice of the farmer.....if you can hear him over the gunshot.