Perhaps there is some kindly soul out there who will take me to one side and assure me that the RSPCA really hasn’t lost the plot with its latest attempt to scupper the badger culls. Because from where I’m standing it clearly has.
The RSPCA, one of the country’s top five charities and (until recently at least) a highly-respected one, has now informed farmers who have signed up to its Freedom Foods initiative that they will be stripped of their elevated status – and therefore the financial benefits that come with it – if they consent to or even support culling on their land.
As an example of folie de grandeur this ranks with the risible announcement by the Soil Association a few years ago that it would rip the ‘organic’ epaulettes off imported foodstuffs if they arrived here with too many air miles on the clock.
That was just another case of the Soil Association foolishly attempting – not for the first or last time – to play God. We all sniggered, then got on with more important things.
But the intervention by the RSPCA is far more serious, and no wonder the NFU’s legal department is now studying the text of the announcement with the aid of a large magnifying glass.
The point is that there is a whole segment of the buying public that basks in almost total ignorance about farming and assumes that only meat bearing the Freedom Foods decal comes from welfare-friendly farms – a delusion which ignores the fact that, as any livestock farmer knows from the minute he emerges from the womb, unless you look after your animals they won’t look after you in the market ring.
Freedom Foods is the only farm assurance scheme based solely on welfare – of livestock, that is. As far as I know there is nothing in its finely-detailed code of practice which mentions badgers.
But the RSPCA has now arbitrarily chosen to scribble an addendum which says, in so many words, that even though a farmer complies with all the requirements of the scheme, even if he goes the extra mile and tucks his animals up and reads them a bedtime story every night, he won’t qualify for the label if he takes the only remedy open to him to prevent his stock contracting and dying painfully from the effects of a pernicious and highly infectious disease.
There is a measure of desperation about the RSPCA’s ploy. It is mean-spirited, vicious and illogical – the hallmark of many of the tactics that are being deployed by opponents of badger culling. It has certainly demeaned the RSPCA in my eyes and, I suspect, those of most farmers.
Not a penny more of mine will drop into any of its collection boxes. And as far as I am concerned the more people that follow my example, the better.
…And don’t come back
Barely was the ink dry on my dissertation concerning the shortcomings of the South West’s hospitality sector than another case study popped up on the radar screen.
I wasn’t personally involved this time but an acquaintance, a jovial, mild-mannered character, was. He had strolled out with his wife to enjoy an hour’s relaxation, conversation and company at one of the local pubs and bought a pint for himself and a white wine spritzer for his wife. However, as soon as she tasted it it became clear it had been made with lemonade, rather than soda water, so he took it back to the landlord and quietly explained.
Now any proprietor keen to preserve his business would, you might have thought, have immediately apologised and rectified the error. They would not have snatched the glass back, poured the contents away, extracted money from the till, slammed it down on the bar and ordered the complainant and his wife to leave on the grounds that they were ‘causing trouble’. But this one did – and the banishment apparently, is a lifetime one.
The problem of poor service and standards in the South West’s catering sector should, it’s now been suggested, be taken up by a TV reality show. Perhaps so.
My preferred format would be that of Restaurant Stake-out, which airs on American TV and where a proprietor – usually of a struggling, if not failing business – agrees to the installation of surveillance cameras and then retreats to a mobile studio nearby with the show’s presenter to watch what happens when he’s not around. Even edited, the results make for shocking viewing.
The climax of the show comes when the employees are informed they’ve been framed and are confronted with the results of the covert operation – and in some cases sacked on the spot. Would it work here? Probably not. There would be all kinds of protests about workers’ human rights being infringed. But above all the format can only be employed where the boss admits he has problems. And in my view there are still too many owners of failed or failing third-rate pubs, restaurants and hotels who will look you in the eye and tell you everything’s fine.
Galloping down wrong path
From the increase in classified advertisements offering second-hand tack to the growth traffic to and from the local abattoir every Monday – horse day, when we make our weekly contribution to the Italian salami industry – the squeeze is tightening its grip on the equestrian world.
But that has barely tempered the zeal of those campaigners who constantly agitate for more equine rights of way to be created in the countryside.
Most of their requests refer to allegedly ‘lost’ routes which may appear as spidery trails on old maps but have long since fallen into disuse, largely as a result of the arrival of the internal combustion engine.
One of my regular contacts on the Somerset Levels near Langport is the latest to be told that moves are afoot to open up ancient and unused routes across his land, none of them previously used during the decades he has been there.
The amount of aggravation this causes for farmers is matched only by the amount of paperwork it generates for local authorities: I am reliably informed Somerset county council estimates it will take nearly 20 years to deal with the backlog of cases.
One of the leading lights in the crusade for more horse-riding routes is one Venetia Craggs, who made a name for herself – though not one that can be printed here – in the Mendip farming community by deluging local councils with requests for long-forgotten bridleways to be reinstated.
Having exhausted every opportunity there Ms Craggs shifted her attention to Exmoor.
There she was soon at it again, trying to force the national park authority to spend £30,000 smoothing over Stone Lane, an ancient bridleway near Exford, on the grounds that its rugged surface may be a health and safety hazard to horse riders, particularly when wet.
The route remains unsurfaced, largely because locals rose up in defence of the status quo in the face of a single complaint from an incomer. Undeterred, Ms Craggs has vigorously taken up other local rights of way issues but her belligerent attitude is such that the national park authority now ignores her – in official jargon refuses to treat with her – and her letters are consigned to the grey, bin-shaped file under the desk.
Perhaps partly because of this insurmountable obstacle to pursuing what she clearly views as her life’s mission Ms Craggs, I am told, is now on the move again: word is she is heading for a new home on Dartmoor. Don’t say you weren’t warned.