Protesters stop slaughter again

Gloucestershire Echo April 24, 2001

People power reigned victorious again as another wave of foot-and-mouth farm blockades held the slaughtermen at bay.

Armed with placards reading "Jab don't cull" and "Healthy animals need not die," up to 50 protesters manned the gates at Sunnyside Farm at Harrrow Hill, in the Forest of Dean.

The peaceful demonstration yesterday was marred only by the arrest of one protester on suspicion of causing criminal damage to a car after she wandered away from the main group. She was later released without charge.

Smallholder Gordon Brown was due to have his 20 ewes and 14 lambs killed at noon, but had contacted the newly formed Forest of Dean Foot-and-Mouth Action Group to help protect his animals.

Mr Brown says he is desperate to save his livestock because it would mean the end of his way of life. He said: "I just want to stop them having my sheep. They are healthy and I have the paperwork from a MAFF vet to prove it. I was given the all clear on Thursday and now they want to kill them.

"I am a pensioner and I lost my wife 11 years ago. Since then the sheep have been all I have got. They have become my family."

Although the lorries carrying equipment ready to kill Mr Brown's livestock arrived, the slaughtermen failed to get out of their vehicles.

And while a police van circled the area for two hours, the protesters stood firm and a MAFF vet made a hasty retreat after viewing the blockade from a distance.

Action group organisers Siobhan Spivack and Carole Youngs had been inspired to rally behind the Forest of Dean farmers after realising many smallholders did not understand their rights.

The group helped to thwart MAFFs plans to cull sheep at Shaun Saunders' farm at The Pludds and at Pat Innocentıs smallholding in Homestead on Saturday.

Ms Youngs said the group had already contacted a solicitor who was briefing a QC to take on the the case of Mr Saunders.

The recent barricades in the Forest of Dean have been sparked by MAFFıs decision to cull 1,600 sheep on 35 small farms in the area.

Janet Bayley, spokesman for the group, said: "MAFF have said it is the free roaming sheep that have put these animals at risk of catching the disease. But the roaming sheep near here were killed three weeks ago.

"This is outside the 20-day incubation period and therefore Mr Brown's animals should be clear of developing any symptoms.

"All we are asking for is for MAFF to test the animals before slaughtering them."

Mr Brown's family are not prepared to stand by and watch him lose his sheep.

His daughter Louise said: "We want the animals to have the tests while they are alive, not after they are dead. There is nothing wrong with the sheep.

"MAFF have been using bullying tactics and are picking on people like my dad who have been law- abiding people all their lives.

"They took two-and-a-half hours trying to bully my dad last Wednesday – this is just not the way to do it."

Diana Court, from Coleford, has nothing to do with the farming industry but has lived in the countryside all her life. She wanted to show her support for the Forest farmers and joined in the demonstration.

She said: "I wanted to support the group and the farmers after hearing there are reasonable reasons why these animals should not be culled.

"The disease is now working its way naturally out of these animals and it seems wrong they are culling perfectly healthy animals.

"The animals should have been vaccinated a long time ago."

Carol Hallam, from nearby Birdwood, joined in the protest out of concern for the animals' welfare.

She said: "I have heard from various people about MAFF not culling livestock properly, sheep getting up after they have been shot and being shoved in the back of lorries.

A MAFF spokesman: "I can confirm MAFF officers did go to serve notice to Sunnyside Farm but were unable to do so. MAFF is currently considering its position and taking legal advice."

Picture: Gordon Brown - resisting MAFF officials who want to enter his property

Action group may meet MAFF

Protestors opposing MAFF's culling policy in the Forest of Dean have invited officials to a public meeting on Thursday.

The Forest of Dean Foot and Mouth Action Group says the meeting, at 7pm in Drybrook Village Hall, will give Forest people the opportunity to air their views for the first time.

At the weekend, the group held off slaughtermen and MAFF vets who arrived to implement their test cull. MAFF is currently trying to cull 1,600 apparently healthy sheep on 35 farms in the Forest. They will take blood tests to see if the animals have been harbouring foot-and-mouth antibodies. If clear, the Forest of Dean will be given the all-clear; if not, MAFF will consider a more extensive cull of sheep.

One of the action group's founders Siobhan Spivack said: "We are holding the meeting to raise public awareness. Farmers need our help resisting MAFF."

Invited are Devonshire vet Wendy Vere, who has spoken out against MAFF's slaughter practices, solicitor Elaine Addy, representing a Devon farmer opposing the cull of his dairy herd, Forest MP Diana Organ, Forest Conservative candidate Mark Harper, legal expert John Gouriet, and possibly MAFF.

Demos ‘threat to neighbours'

protestors who prevented the cull at Oaklands Park Community Farm may have jeopardised the future of farming in the Forest, say neighbouring farmers.

National Farmers Union county vice-chairman Henry Boughton said farmers living near the Newnham-on-Severn farm would not be able restock their farms in six months' time unless the area is declared foot-and-mouth free.

He said that would not happen if MAFF thought the disease could still be lurking in the Oaklands Park flock of 60 short-horn cattle and 100 ewes which had "dangerous contact" with infected animals.

MAFF vets who arrived to slaughter the animals last Thursday were forced back by 200 demonstrators and several similar protests at other farms over the weekend also proved successful.

Mr Boughton said: "The last thing we want to do is alienate anyone but people protesting at Oaklands Park are making statements like: ‘We don't need to worry if our sheep get foot-and-mouth because we can nurse them back to health'.

"But they don't derive their whole income from farming. With their animals still alive, they represent a huge threat to their neighbours, especially as the symptoms of foot-and-mouth are so difficult to detect in sheep."

He suggested a compromise could be reached, for example, to kill the sheep which could be carrying the disease. Then the cattle, which catch foot-and-mouth easily and display the symptoms, would act as "sentinels".

"People who have livestock have to take responsibility," he said. "Think of their neighbours who have sacrificed all their cattle."

One of these neighbours is David Awre, who over the past three weeks, has seen the destruction of his 75 cattle, 25 sheep, 25 cattle belonging to his wife Mandy, and 420 cattle and 150 sheep belonging to his father Earnest and brother Adrian, at two farms in Awre after they caught foot-and-mouth.

Although the Awre family have farmed in the village since the Middle Ages, they may not restock if animals which could be carrying the disease are not culled. David said it wouldn't be worth the risk.

He had great sympathy with those whose animals were at threat.

"Nobody wants to see their animals go," he said. "I would love to see mine back. But if the cull is part and parcel of getting rid of the disease and allowing us to restock safely, I can't see any alternative."

At the moment, the Awre family must wait six months before they can see animals on their farm again.

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Last updated 24-4-01