Having seen another lorry load of in-calf and maiden heifers away to join their dams and grand dams in Northern Ireland, we are now getting the remaining animals down to more easily manageable numbers. The backlog, all due to TB restrictions last year, when we were unable to move any calves ‘off farm’; unless, and a complete ‘No No’, we shot them at birth, we finished up with some 120 surplus mixed calves, of both sexes. Needless to say this caused considerable problems which, thankfully, are now almost resolved. We have one further pre-movement test shortly, then hope to get a further group sold away by November.

We have also taken the decision to split our farm holding numbers, so freeing us from the risk of both farms being closed down in the case of a TB ‘radial’ test, where a neighbour, local to either holding, becomes restricted by yet another phantom APHA breakdown. ‘Peace of Mind’ as much as anything, because, sadly, we will be stock free within six months under present plans. Despite being some eight miles apart a single holding number has been very convenient over the past years when we reared dairy calves away from the main herd and meant we could move our heifers to and from farms, even under movement restrictions.

I wrote here, two months back, about our ash trees with ‘die back’ and things are becoming a bit clearer now. The hill farm has almost half a mile of roadside verge along the A29, with around 150+ semi mature ash trees. Needless to say many of these trees started showing signs of ‘die back’ when they came into leaf this past Spring and, within a few weeks, a letter appeared from our local council telling me we need to “address the problem’.

My family have occupied the farm since 1924 and, since purchasing it in 1978, I always understood the narrow verge in question was the responsibility of the Highways Authority. They have always carried out any maintenance to the trees, clearing storm damaged limbs and have never once approached us to do any work on them, so this came as something of a bombshell. The local view is they are short of funds?

Felling is a big operation, because it will involve close traffic management on the busy road, doubtless Health and Safety will put in their ‘pennyworth’, plus Natural England’s bat and badger ‘experts’, checks on rabbits breeding in the verge, probably even checks on the wolves up in the high woods above! God knows who else will want to be involved. Having told us we have to remove the trees there is even talk now of demanding we pay a fee for applying for planning permission to do just that.

Our forester has applied for a felling licence and will go for a clear fell even though some are suggesting the trees are able to recover. The worry alongside main roads being if they are not all taken out now those left will doubtless get the disease in the next year or so. Better to deal early and make the roads safer. Fortunately we can fell onto the field below the road once our maize crop is harvested so that will make the job easier, but will still cause huge traffic holdups. I hope the cost is helped a bit by the sale of timber, although there will be a lot of it around. Yet I think my biggest concern, after this is sorted, is what Sussex, and particularly our wonderful South Downs, are going to look like for the next half a century.

These disasters began in 1978 when landowners, along the southern edges of the Downs to the sea, had to fell thousands of our huge, wonderfully graceful Elms due to Dutch Elm Disease, which, like several other plant diseases, came to us from mainland Europe! So far, in the forty years since, few if any Elm saplings have managed to get beyond 15-20 years before succumbing again. Then our part of the South Downs lost thousands of mature Beech trees blown over in the Great Storm of 1987. Now it is many more thousands of ash trees.

All told real tragedies for the Countryside. Similar problems perhaps, could be avoided in future if we cut our ties with the EU, make our own rules again and learn something from the South Pacific, specifically New Zealand and Australia, about ‘animal and plant hygiene’, however one fears it is probably too late. Still, despite these ecological disasters I, like so many, am prepared to suffer just a little more ‘brexitis’, to ensure we have a clean break, and a fresh start with our friends across the English Channel. Maybe it will happen, maybe not.

Britain’s armed forces were and still are, after all, a very significant reason Europe isn’t living under Mr Putin today, yet, with the help of too many ‘appeaser MPs’ who wont, or don’t, understand the democratic requirements of the 2016 referendum, progress has been appallingly slow these past few years. Obviously trying to secure their ‘Federal European State’; not wishing to see a disillusioned member slip out of their ‘orbit’; the EU has behaved absolutely disgracefully. Remember, they did the same thing twice with Ireland, demanding further referenda until they got the ‘right’ result! Reminds me a little bit of Corp. Jones, in Dad’s Army, saying to Cpt Mainwaring, “They don’t like it ‘up em Sir”. Well, I hope the EU are going to get it ‘up ‘em’, and soon. After which we Britons can get on with our lives, uninterrupted by fake news and political bullshit. Democracy means respecting democratic votes, even if not agreeing with the outcome.