|OAKLANDS PARK : AN ISLAND OF SANITY
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The Oaklands Park community comprises about a hundred people living and working on the land, and farms 150 acres near Newnham in Gloucestershire. It is a Camphill Community where adults, both with learning difficulties and without, live according to principles based on the ideas of Rudolph Steiner. The farm grows organic vegetables, and in addition to supplying their own needs and most of the needs of the nearby Camphill centre, The Grange, the farm supplies about 100 families with their fruit and vegetables on a box scheme.
Lorraine and Mike feed Jerry the Bull.
Milk and meat are produced for Oaklands, The Grange, and about 200 people in the area. There are 60 cattle and followers, which include about 25 dairy cows. Wool is produced from 50-60 Wensleydale ewes. The wool is spun and used to make garments and furnishings. Around ten people work in the Weavery.
The philosophy on which the community is based could not be more at odds with the wasteful and cruel policies in force during last year's foot and mouth cull. Given their love and respect for the natural world, and resistance to exploitation and abuse of people and animals, it is not surprising that the community refused to allow the slaughter of the healthy stock on their farm.
Below: John Neligan (left) and Philip with some of the Shorthorn dairy cows.
"to keep everything in the life-sphere"
John has 26 years of experience in farming with natural methods, and he explained to us how he believes in keeping everything "within the life-sphere" meaning that what is done to animals or plants should be done in such a way as to enhance life and not detract from it.
The aim is to strengthen and encourage resistance to disease, which only takes hold when the life-sphere is weak. The particular kind of organic farming practised by the Oaklands community concentrates on increasing the natural resilience of plants and animals.
When we mentioned that one organic organisation in Scotland had advocated the slaughter policy because it didn't believe in vaccination, John shook his head in disbelief. "They've completely missed the boat", he said. "The aim is to keep everything in the life-sphere".
He explained that while Oaklands do not normally advocate vaccination, they believe it is the right thing to do in the case of foot and mouth disease as it keeps the animals within the life-sphere instead of killing them unnecessarily.
Disinfectants are not normally used, the idea being that the animals' internal systems will keep harmful bugs at bay; bugs will always be around, as living things are themselves constantly full of bacteria. Of course there was a barrier at the gate to keep vehicles out, and all shoes had to be disinfected to conform with "bio-security" rules.
In that regard, John had spoken to contractors who felt that the disinfecting of premises was a farce from top to bottom. Oaklands had not gone through the disinfection process, and he joked that they were waiting for a letter from the ministry thanking them very much for saving them a hundred thousand pounds! "Somehow, I don't think we're going to get that letter!"
Two "Infected Premises" and other farms in the area had been culled out. Having suffered threats and intimidation from the MAFF, and not knowing their rights, they were worn down.
Oaklands Park, however, decided to resist: They held a strategy meeting and agreed they were not going to allow their healthy animals to be slaughtered. The sheep were all brought inside, next door to the cattle. Other concerned persons in the area got involved.
MAFF were expected on the 19th of April, and by that time a meeting had been held, the night before, and a network of people including supporter Pat Thompson, let the media know.
John told us : "We were surprised at what good coverage we got, including on the BBC Today programme. People just flooded onto our drive to support us. Local people told us that they had felt dis-empowered until we made our stand. After that, they felt there was something farmers could really do; the Forest of Dean Action Group was formed on our drive!
"David Parker, the DVM from Gloucester, said that for him it was 'an operational decision' not to come in and cull on the 19 April. They could have come across the fields, or through the back gates, but we had cameras left, right and centre, and video cameras in every direction.
"The authorities take a very different approach when they know they are being filmed. We never actually saw MAFF. There were a lot of cars in the lay-by on the other side of the road, and we had two huge earth-moving machines blocking the way. A very high-up police inspector, with a constable, came up.
"He said, 'We're just calling by because of the traffic. Just wanted to check out that it wasn't causing a parking hazard and obstruction. Are you planning to resist the cull of your animals?'
"We said yes -- so he said, 'We just wanted to check on the parking.'
"MAFF, we were later told, were parked in Westbury, a couple of miles away. The Police must have reported to them. MAFF told us that. 'For the time being, we will not cull your healthy animals'. We had a stay of execution, it seemed."
Time passed, and in May, John contacted Paul Kitching of Pirbright, and got straight through to ask him about the situation.
John continued, "Suddenly, out of the blue, he said: absolutely no problem, we can do the tests privately if you get permission from the DVM to move A-grade material. We got permission, and we had an interview with the BBC on the 11th of May.
"On Saturday 12th May, Elliot Morley went to Gloucester and gave permission for blood tests for the Forest of Dean. On the 13th May, we were able to blood test and got two samples. The vet passed it to the DEFRA inspector. They came back clean."
So, the animals of Oaklands Park were saved. A hundred people spent seven weeks "under house arrest" at Oaklands Park. Of 76 cases in the area, only 13 were confirmed positive on laboratory reports; that is, only 28% positive. Pirbright laboratory are adamant that they have checked and re-checked their test methodology.
John told us that right now they are terrified of the new Animal Health Bill and scared of what the authorities are going to do next time.
He showed us around the farm, including some of the beautiful Shorthorn cows and the extensive vegetable gardens.
As we left John at our car, he left us with this thought: "We were in a particular place at a particular time. We had opportunities not presented elsewhere. Not everybody could have done what we did, because of their different situations."