Back in early January an email arrived which struck me as a potential scam, not least because we get so many of them these days. It was from a body asking for a fee from us, and presumably similar companies, for ‘storing data’. They demanded payment almost immediately. No invoice, no clear explanatory letter, it appeared a classic scam. I sent it to my accountant and asked him what he knew about it. He said it ‘looked genuine’ and said he would check, but I heard no more, so I gave it to Emma to investigate.

Whether a scam or not, it appeared to be another ‘government body on the make’; to get yet more cash out of businesses for doing something we were actually being instructed to do, not because we wanted or needed to store the data.

Emma straightaway confirmed: “Yes,” it had indeed come from the Government. So we went through the online conditions, came to the conclusion that they didn’t apply to us and sent a message to that effect, which they formally acknowledged, via their webpage. Matter hopefully closed. Although they were only asking for some £40 a year it was just one more valueless outgoing. All the £40 payments soon add up, don’t they?

Many of you running businesses have probably had the same thing. I’m sure you check such demands carefully. Many of the matters we are told to do electronically could indeed result in downloading data but, in most instances, I imagine, much is then printed or deleted as irrelevant, rather than downloaded.

We store no data which the law doesn’t already require us to. Accountants, agents, or lawyers handle the rest. My thoughts being that if government requires us to store data, why should we pay to do their work? I expect you are thinking: “He’s a difficult b…..!” Probably, but only if you come in ‘enforcement’ mode!
Without any cattle now, we are well ahead of ourselves this year. Emma has been doing contract work for the vineyard as others erect the wirework trellis/frames for the first 50,000 vines planted last May. It’s a huge job but with greatly improved systems, using metal supports as opposed to wood so that costs, while initially higher, are greatly reduced, and the framework should last many years.

They are also slowly mechanising the bulk of all vineyard operations, thus greatly reducing the need for extra labour. That’s just as well, because the availability of good European workers is much reduced since the virus hit. I imagine specialist vineyard machinery sales will be growing fast and, one hopes, much of it will be British made. Initial signs are that developments are rapidly gaining momentum.

Up to Scotland, where I am informed, since it has been quite difficult to cross the border recently, tree planting is under way. It’s frustrating to be barred by the virus from seeing this all taking place, so instead I rely on progress reports from the agents there, Scottish Woodlands, and from neighbours Donald and Nell MacBean, whose cottage nestles below the main forest and has an excellent view of all comings and goings on the land.

Donald shoots the forest for pheasants, deer, foxes and corvids and will soon be operating as well on the new land which, amongst other things, has a large disused water reservoir where he and some friends have had some good wildfowl ‘flighting’ (geese and duck). Nell herself has a handful of rare Scottish Deerhounds, which she shows around the North Country. Due to the virus rules this has been considerably restricted, but the dogs need exercising, so between these interests the pair are kept very busy.

Talking about water reservoirs, we finally got around to testing the borehole site which the late George Applegate identified for me 10 years ago here on the home farm.

I have for a long time thought it would be prudent to have our own supply, for several reasons, but had been held back by stories that several bores sunk locally had produced brackish/salty water of variable quality, unlike the pure samples from higher up on the Downs. When I suggested this to George, though, he assured me this site was ‘good’ and that the water, instead of being 80m down, would be found little deeper than 20m; so, 10 years later, the decision was finally made.

I contacted George’s earlier nominated borehole driller, Owen Thomas of OT Drilling from Sittingbourne, who did the earlier successful drill on the hill farm. A very efficient operator is Owen. The accuracy they can drill to is amazing and the earlier result up there was exactly as George predicted.

The Friday the rig arrived we would have found a wonderful supply of water at around one metre, such were the saturated ground conditions… The team appeared with the same rig as earlier, we carefully cut some overhead branches off a large ‘London plane’ for safe access, Owen positioned it and set it up ready.
I had not seen him for some nine years, but he knew our area like the back of his hand, having previously drilled bores locally.

Drilling took two days, through about ten metres of sandy clay, flints and finally solid chalk; the drill was encased at 20m within six inch steel tube into the solid chalk, then just an uncased bore for another 10m, with the pump set two metres from the bottom of the steel casing. It will be pumped off till it runs clean then sent for testing. Much holding of breath, while hoping George was right about purity, because were it to be saline, it would be money and effort wasted. As I write this on 10 February, Owen Thomas and his crew are departing to snowy Kent, so fingers crossed.

And finally, while it won’t appeal like Lady Chatterley’s Lover once did, there will be bits of my new book that will resonate with many country people. It’s not written to be a best seller but records the latter 20 years of a still-working farmer’s life. The book is available through me for £13 (£2 per sale donated to RABI) by emailing