|DEATH DENIED ACCESS : ANN YOUNG SAVES HER WOOLLY FAMILY
Ann Young lives near Penrith, Cumbria, and keeps 160 Merino sheep and 80 Alpacas. Until last year's foot and mouth crisis, Ann was enjoying her small wool farm, having moved to Penrith from near Lanark in Scotland.
Although she never took out any legal actions, she was nevertheless successful in keeping the MAFF killers away from her stock. Various factors were involved in her success including obtaining widespread media publicity, having an organised network of people who could stand by her, having access to information and advice, often via the web, constant vigilance, and above all, her no-nonsense determination to save her animals, come what may. Unfortunately, she can no longer bear to breed sheep or Alpacas, for fear of the consequences of future government policies.
Report and pictures by Astrid Goddard
During the crisis, all hell broke loose around Ann's farm. Two of her neighbours lost stock in foot and mouth culls, and just up the road, carcasses lay for two weeks, oozing body fluids onto the road, whilst flocks of crows pecked at them. Ann telephoned MAFF to inform them of this and was told that she must be mistaken because "birds eat seeds" This gave an early indication of what Ann would have to deal with.
I asked Ann what made her go into sheep farming:
"Merinos are lovely natured sheep, but in other countries the way they are treated is totally unacceptable. I wanted to produce a commodity that didn't involve pain, suffering and slaughter. I was brought up on a cattle farm and so I feel justified in making these comments. There are just too many humans who think that unless you are a bullying un-compassionate sort of person you are not really farming. I am keeping these sheep for what they are bred for: wool production. Why am I not taken seriously as a farmer?"
"The speaker of the House of Commons sits on a bale of wool. Wool built the British Empire. All the churches in Gloucester and round those areas, the large mansions and so on, were built on wealth generated from sheep. And now they are the most maligned species in the UK. People forget their history. No-one stops to think that we are a tiny island, in an icy sea. Sheep should be a revered species. We should be thankful to them."
The first communication to Ann from MAFF was to inform her that she was within 3km from an infected premises - which was a joke since she was within 200 yards of two! Her stock would have to be slaughtered because they were contiguous on more than one occasion.
"My main memory of that time," said Ann "is that I seemed to be speaking to people who otherwise were rational reasonable and sane, but the words that they were saying were insane. It gives you a most peculiar feeling.
"I had put up sheets across the barn entrances to protect the animals from any virus, and purchased a machine to put out a disinfectant mist - harmless to the animals. I lived at the yard, in a trailer, in the house next door, and eventually in a caravan."
This brought to mind thoughts of Sue and Bill Osborne in their trailer.
"My theory at the time was that I would write to DEFRA asking them to explain in explicit detail, relevant to my yard, and my stock. I offered to send them the scientific research that had already been compiled from Argentina and South Africa."
I asked Ann what they said to that: "That they could do without smart arses like me! They weren't interested in anyone from any other country. If it wasn't done in Britain it's not valid. So I said, I'll await your communication with interest, and they hated that. They had no intention of sending one."
"I'd given a couple of interviews at that time, when I said that they did not have the power of law to carry out these needless slaughters under the Animal Health Act. The act is fairly explicit. You have to have reason to slaughter. Only a vet or a scientist could give that justification. A ministry official is not qualified to do so."
"Living next door is not a justification. I offered to also send them copies of the Animal Health Act. They didn't want those either."
"One day, I was in the barn feeding the sheep. I heard a commotion and noise in the yard. The gate was locked and padlocked, so how could there be a commotion in the yard? I came out of the barn and saw a digger trying to come through my gates. The bucket of the digger was underneath the gate and it was being lifted off its hinges!"
"We need to bear in mind that at this time dead bodies had been lying for two weeks on the neighbouring farm. One thing a murderer has to think of is what they will do with the body. The government weren't that smart there, were they?
"So I stood in front of the digger. I knew myself that they were going no further. The driver explained to me that he had to get into the yard to make a start on the pyre."
"I don't know how to say this, because I actually stood there and said: God, how efficient! 'My animals are alive and haven't even got the disease', I screamed at him. We've gone from total inefficiency to this. I still get the shakes. What if I hadn't been here? Or been across the road, or sleeping and hadn't heard anything? It was so shocking that their incompetence knew no bounds. They couldn't even get the farms right. It transpired that the chap was at the totally wrong farm. But the crazy thing is that he never stopped to ask what the name of this farm was, and was taking my gate off with his bulldozer!"
"One of the funniest bits - in retrospect, not at the time - was that Land Rovers full of soldiers arrived at my farm, about six or seven soldiers. They looked a lot, as it is a narrow road. I'd been tidying up my disinfectant mats and I just got such a shock."
"I leapt the closed gate (about four and a half feet high). No time to get the padlock undone. This was how the government got you. You got so threatened by the uniform of what should have been a friendly army... to me, their presence was an act of terror."
"I can assure you I will never be able to jump that gate again. It takes me all my time to climb over it. Imagine being terrified of the army of the country you are a citizen of - how awful. I kept them off my land."
"At one point, DEFRA said 'We'll phone you at 8.00am tomorrow morning', so I said I'm too busy at that time of day. My animals feed comes before ministry phone calls. They called at 10.30am. From then on they had to do things when it was convenient for me.
"This is not how I normally behave. I spend my time with my sheep. I'm a sort of sheep person. I don't like upset or drama. I try to avoid dramatic type people. It's unsettling. I'm quite a shy retiring type of person, and maybe on reflection, it wasn't a bravery thing; maybe it was a cowardly thing. One thing I could not have lived with is to have witnessed a sheep with a hole between its eyes. I couldn't have continued my life having witnessed that. I could never have left my sheep at the hands of those butchers that were doing the killing."
"I actually spoke to someone recently from near Hastings, Kent. They knew a few of the huntsmen that came to help with the cull. She said they brought back stories about the incompetent people that had been hired to kill the animals were beyond belief... even the people involved in the killing were disgusted by some of the slaughterers."
I asked Ann "After you refused DEFRA, did they carry out a blood test?"
"Not until August, because I made it very clear that the vet who is allowed to come here must meet certain criteria. Including not having been on any farm for 14 days. A vet from Kansas came and inspected my sheep. She looked at the feet of several and insisted that they had healed lesions. It turned out that she had no experience of sheep at all, having only worked with cattle. Merino sheep have unusual ridges on their hooves. She was causing them distress, and I had to tell her to stop. I was not upsetting my sheep for somebody who had it fixed in their head that they had lesions. I insisted that proper blood tests would determine that they had not been infected. I'd probably seen more sheep feet and mouths than that vet."
"Eventually they allowed me to have the blood tests taken by my own vet. Blood tests were taken from the sheep and sent off. Two weeks later they decided that the Alpacas needed to be tested also. Alpacas come from FMD endemic countries, such as Chile and Peru. They have built up a natural immunity. By then the results from the sheep had come back negative, obviously. It was quite amusing that the animals were co-housed throughout, and then they demanded to blood test the alpacas. If it was so virulent, then who is telling lies to whom here? My vet came to blood test again."
Why, I wondered, didn't everyone whose animals were threatened do what Ann did?
"Logic and reasoning just seemed to leave people... It was like living in an asylum - and the doctors had all gone home."
"I'm obviously maligning asylums, as they are probably quieter and more reasonable places than the countryside was last year. The tests from the Alpacas were negative. We seemed then to settle into... almost like sitting in the eye of the storm. You don't know what is going to happen next. You think: Isn't it awfully quiet? Too quiet!"
I asked Ann, "Were you prepared for a standoff?"
"I had quite a few people who had contacted me and set up emergency numbers; I just had to call one number. They would come and blockade the roads in camper vans and such like. People from all over. The majority came from Gloucester, Lancashire, and Yorkshire. Some came from Carlisle and Penrith. They were prepared to sleep in their camper vans."
"Then September the 11th came. We just knew that was the end of foot and mouth. Something bigger, and a real threat to humans. Governments just can't afford to buy bombs and bullets and pay for killing animals. Gordon Brown will probably testify to that!"
"I believe that if you can't look after an animal with care and compassion then you'll never look after a human with care and compassion. If I do nothing else in this life, then at least I'll have made sure that a bunch of animals haven't suffered. My life's a worthwhile event. I haven't discovered a drug to cure cancer, I really don't need to climb Everest or anything, but there's 200 animals out there that haven't had to feel terrified of a bunch of barbaric slaughtermen chasing them up and down and shooting at them - if that's why I am here, that's OK with me, it's a worthwhile thing that I did.
"Hilary Paters was one of my greatest supporters. She was in constant contact. She was distributing factual information to people, especially in the Settle area. And the knowledge that Hilary was there when I needed her - she should be given a medal. She is one of the unsung heroes. She drove everywhere she was needed, in her camper van with her two dogs. You got the info she printed out and she was always there when you needed her. I had a good reason for what I did; I have my woolly family here. What Hilary did was above and beyond what the vast majority of the citizens of the UK even bothered doing. Her phone and fuel bills must have been horrendous."
"Was there anyone else instrumental in your getting through it all?"
"I really do need to thank the media. As much as we berated them at times for not stirring up as much a activity as we would have liked. I genuinely feel that it was their presence that went a long way to keeping my flock safe. I had organised with them 24-hour numbers that I could phone if anything happened. They did promise to give full coverage to anything the ministry tried to do to me. I think that this government is swayed by what might appear on television. Tony likes his image to be of a clean-cut family man!"
"Mary's website www.warmwell.com was just amazing. News as it happened. Reuters is good but Mary Critchley is far superior. I would switch my computer on at 7.00am, and they'd run it by Mary before the press. She is another of the stars."
"And I never really got a chance to thank these people and let them know how important they were to this yard's survival. So basically, THANK YOU EVERYONE! It was a team, and just knowing that there were other people there helped so much. I'm still trying to catch up on all the correspondence. I am grateful to every one of them."
Ann's picture was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph at the time, and Ann told me that she had about a hundred letters of support from gentlemen who had been in the army and fought for this country and for democracy, and were deeply distressed at what things had come to here.
Ann's sheep and alpacas are a delight. Although they are gentle animals by nature and were understandably wary of me, a stranger, they gradually became friendlier. The alpacas seemed quite interested in the novelty of a new human, and one of them gave me a "kiss"! They do this to Ann all the time.
The sheep are interesting little characters. In no time at all it was clear that they have very individual personalities. Nibbler, by name and by nature, was very inquisitive about me, whilst I was taking photographs, she tried to get my attention, first by nibbling at my back, then putting one foot up on my arm, like a dog giving its paw, and finally by pushing me over in the straw! An unexpected bonus for Ann was when Vanessa, one of her ewes, gave birth to Virtue and Venus, pictured here.
The thought that all these lovely animals could have been killed so needlessly is intolerable. Let us hope the inspiring example set by Ann Young will motivate others to resist, if ever the government tries such an appalling policy again.