Don's Diary

March 23, 2001

Earlier start to feed sheep, allowing for the ritual of disinfecting and showering. Leave foot-and-mouth epicentre of the South-west to hear second reading of hunting bill in the Lords. Attend Commons reception on the future of farming. Take opportunity to bend some ears on how it feels to live in a despairing community.

Stay home. Banned from visiting office at the Institute of Grassland and Environment Research. Prospects for project on climate change and farmers' knowledge requirements due to start in April are low. Emotional involvement in crisis is harder to bear. The fear is palpable but community solidarity is strong. Advise vicar on Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's website -rumours are rife so need facts.

Drive to Cheltenham to see PhD students. Students are unsure, and much of their work is on hold. Postpone a farmer postal survey and the management meeting of an European Union-funded demonstration farm project due for next week. Warn colleagues of possible implications of the crisis for research funding streams.

Maff vet calls to look at sheep. All mouths inspected and given a clean bill of health. Sky TV phone to ask if I can take part as one of three experts in phone-in. Filmed at the edge of an infected farm with a funeral pyre in Highampton. May elections are a hot topic. Go local explaining that postal votes may well be available but that a community in crisis has no stomach for elections. Revert to academia and assert that participative democracy and the electoral process is about more than voting.

Regional Development Agency ask for some thoughts on how emergency money might be spent in the worst affected parts of the region - hammer out some ideas on improving resourcing and coordination of the Farm Crisis Network and ideas on reviving tourism, local food marketing, etc. Tempted to say just give the money to the families in the greatest need, but it does not work that way. Manage to do some academic work on contract to review United Kingdom research on multifunctionality in agriculture.

Time off to take daughter and friends to theatre in Barnstaple for a birthday treat. Good to get out as so many social events are cancelled. Home to find news of another farming couple afflicted.

Conduct Methodist service, which we record for the farming families unable to be with us. Fascinated by the changes in religiosity as a consequence of this crisis. Silence, votive candles, written prayer requests - none of these are characteristic of the austere and wordy Bible Christian Methodism of these parts. Feed the sheep.

Michael Winter is professor of rural economy and society, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, and research associate, Institute of Grassland and Environment Research. He is an Anglican reader and Methodist local preacher in Hatherleigh, Devon.

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