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Sunday, May 19, 2024
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Notes from the Sticks: Sheep Hater of the Week

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THE ‘rewilding’ mania is becoming more worrying and more sinister. Until fairly recently it was easy to laugh at the crazy idea of bringing beavers back to Britain some centuries after they were hunted to extinction, but it is happening, and they are thriving. (It still makes me laugh that the supporters of beavers talk of them as skilled  landscape improvers, as if they have served a five-year apprenticeship in civil engineering and got the certificate to prove it.) Last week in TCW Philip Walling described a National Trust rewilding project in Northumberland which involves turning 1,250 acres of farmland into woodland, complete with a reservation for beavers which are fully expected to escape and go freelance. This is part of a systematic campaign to reduce the amount of land which is farmed in the ludicrous aim to achieve Net Zero and somehow alter the way the Earth’s climate has  developed and varied over its 4.5billion-year existence. I haven’t yet discovered how the lost food production is to be made up, though my guess is that it won’t be and that the eco-zealots will watch with pleasure as the population is reduced by starvation, as another TCW article suggested last week. 

One thing you can be sure of is that the elites will not be starving to death. Which brings me to ‘Sheep-hater of the Week’, Ben Goldsmith, who wrote a diatribe in last weekend’s Mail on Sunday saying that sheep farming in Britain must end. 

Goldsmith is the 42-year-old son of the late Sir James Goldsmith, and his elder brother is Baron (Zac) Goldsmith, a minister in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Educated at Eton, Ben Goldsmith is a financier reportedly worth around £300million and a long-standing donor to the Green Party. According to Wikipedia, ‘he has used his personal wealth to support both philanthropic and political projects in the area of the environment and sustainability’. He was an adviser to Defra for five years until last year when he left to pursue his interests in rewilding. He is perhaps not the most competent custodian of the countryside: in 2020 he fell foul of his neighbours in Somerset after he allowed 32 red deer to escape from his estate, admitting that his fencing was inadequate. The Mail reported: ‘The financier claimed on several occasions that he had hired professionals who rounded up almost all of the deer, which reassured local farmers and horse breeders. But he allowed the deer to remain in the area, and fabricated pictures to fool locals. He admitted this week that what he told neighbours was a “lie”, saying: “I was bullsh***ing, and I am deeply sorry”.’ There were also accusations that he had released wild boar, which he denied, though he admitted feeding them on his land.

To me, his MoS article is a masterpiece of generalisation and absent facts.

He says that sheep have stripped uplands of their tree cover and compacted the soil so that rain runs straight off ‘making soil erosion, flash flooding, and seasonal drought far more frequent and more severe, costing the country billions each year’. (Note that no exact sum or source is given, a common ploy to make refutation impossible.) And has he not heard of the tree line? Trees won’t grow above it and over much of the country this is at about 650ft, even lower in the exposed North West. If drainage is a problem (though all the uplands I have ever seen are well-equipped with water courses), how about installing some land drains as the Victorians did?

Goldsmith says that sheep dip to control parasites poisons the soil. The answer to that must be improved practice.

And he complains that ‘sheep tend to be raised on our less productive land, in areas not suitable to growing crops’. That seems to me to be a good reason to farm sheep, to produce wholesome food where nothing else will grow – unless you want to restrict the food supply.

I find it intensely worrying that policy is being made by people like Mr Goldsmith who have the wealth and influence to indulge their niche interests and seem unable to accept that fact that the country is not the way it was 500 years ago, replete with beavers, wolves, bears, lynx and sea eagles, and that pressing ahead with recreating this ecosystem at the expense of farming is certain to be a disaster.

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Cow of the Week

Since the foregoing item is about sheep I thought I would write about cows for a change.

Highland cattle are extremely hardy and can live outside all year round. They are versatile and found from sea level to many thousand feet, and in different farming systems from smallholdings to upland estates. They are bred mainly to produce meat, often being crossed with other breeds to produce hardy, fast-maturing calves.

The breed was developed in the Scottish Highland and the Western Isles. Originally there were two types. One was small and usually black and was mainly bred in the Western Isles, while the mainland type was larger and usually brown or red. When the first herd book was established in 1885 the two types were recorded without distinction as ‘Highland’.

Now the usual coat colour is reddish brown, seen in approximately 60 per cent. The rest are yellow, pale silver, black or brindle/dun. They have an unusual double coat of hair. On the outside is the oily outer hair, the longest of any cattle breed, covering a downy undercoat. Both sexes have wide horns. Highland cattle have a longer lifespan than most other breeds of cattle, up to 20 years. Despite their rather fearsome appearance they are docile and easily handled, as you can see in this video.

You can read more at the Highland Cattle Society website

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Wheels of the week

This is a 1978 Triumph Dolomite 1850HL, with a 1854cc engine.

The Dolomite (a pre-war Triumph name revived) was unveiled at the London Motor Show in October 1971 to replace the six-cylinder Triumph Vitesse, but did not enter full production until October 1972. The car was capable of 100mph with 0-60mph in just over 11 seconds.

By 1976 the Dolomite range had become unwieldy with many variants, notably the Sprint, so there was a wholesale rationalisation.  The 1850HL was the luxury specification, with a rev counter, clock, head rests and walnut door cappings.

Wikipedia says: ‘The Dolomite gained a reputation for fragility. The introduction of the Dolomite came at a turbulent time for British Leyland and Triumph in particular with many new model introductions, completely new architecture and alloy head/iron block construction of the OHC slant-four, meant that dealership mechanics were not fully aware of the servicing requirements of the engine. In particular, it required the cooling system to be kept in good condition, and partially filled with a rust inhibitor, otherwise corrosion leading to radiator blockages and overheating could occur.’

Production ended in August 1980 when British Leyland closed the factory where the Dolomite was made in Canley, Coventry. A total of 204,003 were made in all versions.

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Notes from the Sticks is taking a break. I hope to be back after Easter.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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