Monday, 22 April 2013

Spring hopes

Woke up this morning to hear a cheerful dawn chorus, notably blackbirds, with robins and pigeons in the background. Our small garden isn't a great wildlife haven but it's nice to be reminded that spring has arrived. In fact we were at a young friend's wedding in Oxford on Saturday, bathed in sunshine on the banks of the Cherwell river. It is true that spring is not as advanced this year as sometime, but I gather that fruit-farmers regard it as good news and anticipate good crops - assuming the bees survive the neonicotinoids. Certainly it seems to be a good year
The bride's mother embracing Jane
for primroses and the daffodils and narcissi in our garden. 

Contra yesterday's Countryfile on BBC1. Usually it's Tom Heap who specialises in doom and gloom, and, if we've recorded it,  through whose Cassandra-like reports we tend to fast-forward. However, yesterday it was the normally sanguine farmer Adam Hanson who was bemoaning the weather. Fair enough, he looked like losing his field of over-wintering oil-seed rape, but it won't actually ruin him. He had the gall to describe it as "a disaster" (originally a cosmic event of the destruction of a star). For one thing in our climate nature has a way of compensating - think of last year's transition from drought to flood. For another, it won't actually render him destitute. And for a third, did he not watch the wonderful programme also by the BBC, The Toughest Place to be a Farmer, in which Devon dairy farmer, Richard Gibson, went to work with a Samburu farmer herding cattle in the desolate northern part of Kenya?

As the write-up said,  
BBC photo
"British farmers have suffered from low milk prices and squeezed margins but it is nothing compared to the struggles of Richard's host, village elder Lemerigichen. In recent years drought has decimated the herds in this region, forcing many Samburu off their land and into the poverty of local towns. Richard launches himself into an alien lifestyle - sleeping rough in the wilderness, drinking cow's blood and digging and digging to find water. The two men form a touching bond through the love of their animals and the basic drive to support their families, whilst Richard gains an insight into what it is like to tend a herd when surrounded by lions, leopards and hyenas." In producer, Hannah Griffiths' story of meeting Lemerigichen, she wrote, "he’d lost cattle to drought, his brother to tribal warfare and a child to illness. He’d fought bloody battles to protect his herd, gone for days without food and water in times of drought and suffered prejudice and abuse when he’d gingerly ventured 200 miles to the city to find paid work. Yet he never gave up."  

Don't mistake me. I do not belittle the reverses that farmers have suffered this year, least of all the tragic loss of livestock that many hill-farmers have sustained. The sight of mounds of sheep carcases waiting to be disposed of from the Welsh border farm was shocking and distressing, and must have been devastating for the farmer, Errol Morris, whom we saw dragging yet another two of his decimated flock across the snow. It must take real courage to pick oneself from yet another reverse inflicted by the weather or by disease, and like Lemerigichen and Errol, never to give up. It's the farmer's territory, fate and gift. I trust and believe that better is to come. I hope so.

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